No Bull, Just a Love of Bulldogs
By Debbie Lagestee • Photos by Valerie & Ed Photography
Heather O’Connor and Jesse James are Charleston transplants from Cape Girardeau, Missouri. They met through mutual friends 12 years ago and have been dating ever since. Heather attended Southeast Missouri State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science- Biology degree and graduated Magna Cum Laude. She continued her education at the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences for medical school. In 2017, Heather and Jesse relocated to Charleston from Kansas City, Missouri, to pursue her Pathology Residency at the Medical University of South Carolina. It is a world-renowned program, so they welcomed the opportunity despite the fact they would be moving away from their family and friends. Heather is currently completing a fellowship in Surgical Pathology. Next year she will do a second fellowship in Dermatopathology.
Jesse graduated from the Motorcycle Mechanic Institute for Harley Davidson in Orlando, Florida, in 2007. His career with Harley Davidson led him to multiple locations, including Girardeau, MO, Memphis, TN, Collierville, TN, Kansas City, MO, and finally Charleston, SC. After more than 10 years with the company, Jesse changed professions. He now works for Capital Coffee, a small business that supplies high-end coffee machines and vending machines to numerous companies throughout the Charleston area. Their products are found in office breakrooms and several local car dealerships. Jesse is enjoying the new learning experience. His affections still run deep for Harley Davidson, and he marvels that he can ride his motorcycle year-round in Charleston.
Photo by Jeanne Taylor Photography
Jesse has a creative side as well. His passion is seeking, repurposing, and refinishing antique furniture, adding metalwork to give his pieces an industrial flair. His creativity does not stop there. He also creates costume props and is a talented sculptor with a love of molding works of art. He designed and sculpted the whimsical metal doorknob on the Carolina Bay neighborhood Little Free Library door. Halloween is his favorite time of year as he is an expert pumpkin sculptor. He artistically hand sculpts intricate designs, transforming pumpkins into life-like creatures. Jesse’s dream is to share his gifts and talents with others doing movie make-up or owning his own furniture repurposing business one day.
Heather and Jesse have 2 four-legged babies. Both of their bulldogs are rescues from Bullies 2 the Rescue. They are a rescue based in Charlotte, NC, but have a presence in Charleston as well. Penelope is 4 years old, and she was the first to join the family on Mother’s Day 2019. Mud is 5 years old. Heather and Jesse fostered Mud in May 2020, and they quickly realized he should be a permanent part of their family. They officially adopted him in July 2020.
Penelope loves her 4:00am walks before Heather goes to work. On the other hand, Mud prefers afternoon or evening walks in the stroller to the park to watch the kids play on the playground. Although he doesn’t like to go on actual walks, Mud loves taking swim lessons. His lessons are one-on-one with an instructor in a heated saltwater pool. Spending time with their dogs is Jesse and Heather’s favorite pastime. They love taking them to the beach, James Island Dog Park, or hanging out together at home. Jesse and Heather have fun attending rescue events around town, including the Christmas parade downtown Charleston. Being a huge advocate for the rescue, Heather co-hosted a Bulldog Beauty Pageant and 5k race partnered with The Citadel in 2019. The money raised from the events benefited The Citadel and Bullies 2 the Rescue.
Photo by Jeanne Taylor Photography
Trained in science and medicine, Heather is creative in her own right. When they first adopted Penelope, she searched high and low for cute outfits to dress Penelope. Unfortunately, she was unable to find anything to fit her chunky bundle of love. To solve the problem, Heather learned how to sew. She became very good at it in a short amount of time. She began an Etsy business called, Bulldogs in Tutus. The business was a success, but her work schedule proved too busy to keep up with the orders. Unable to maintain a side business, she disappointingly shut it down. In her small amount of free time, Heather still fulfills her creativity by making dog clothes and dresses for the rescue and friends from the rescue. She also makes dog bandanas, bows, and bowties for the Wiggle to the Finish 5k in Florence, SC. Heather’s enthusiasm and admiration for the rescue are endless. She is happy to volunteer to give back a tiny portion of the love their bulldogs bring her and Jesse every day.
Jesse and Heather live in Tidewater at Carolina Bay. They bought their house sight unseen in 2017. She was still in med school, and a trip out of state to house hunt was out of the question. They trusted their realtor, who did a walk-through in their absence and sent them photos of the house. Heather comments, “We are so glad it worked out.” They chose Carolina Bay because of the sidewalks and greenery throughout the community and the proximity to downtown. Being within 20 minutes to the hospital was a prerequisite for Heather’s on-call shifts. They love their neighbors and the neighborhood. They enjoy hanging out with their fellow bulldog neighbors down the street.
It is often said, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Heather and Jesse could not agree more. It also happens to be their favorite meal of the day. They delight in going out to breakfast trying different restaurants in search of the all-around best breakfast. Heather says, “We order multiple dishes, put them all in the middle and share!” It is a tradition they plan to continue for years to come. Heather’s busy school and work schedules over the past few years have left little time for travel. As soon as her fellowships and residency are complete, they will celebrate with a trip to Disney World. There is a strong possibility their future path will lead them back to Missouri to be closer to family. However, there is no bull about it; they built their family here in Charleston.