Lionel Shannon has called the Outer Banks home all his life. Even when he went away to college at NC State and then worked as an engineer in a Virginia shipyard, he came home most weekends. That’s why he’d be hard-pressed to choose what he loves best about the Outer Banks. “I guess having grown up here, every aspect of it is important to me,” Shannon says. He’s seen the Outer Banks change in many ways, but he’s adamant about one thing: “The hospital is a real asset to the community.”

Back when Shannon was a boy in Kitty Hawk, the closest doctors were 25 miles in either direction. And there was certainly no hospital. “If you were hurt badly, you had to drive to the hospital in Elizabeth City,” says Shannon. His community was so small then, the ambulance doubled as a hearse. Shannon used to help the driver pick people up — “either the dead or the injured” — and take them to the hospital or the funeral home, depending. “It was just the way things were,” says Shannon.

Although a few key players had been advocating for a hospital for years, Shannon’s brother-in-law was instrumental in bringing The Outer Banks Hospital to fruition. If anyone’s got a pulse on the needs and wants of the community, it’s longstanding residents like Shannon and his family. Shannon, along with his wife, their daughter and son-in-law, run Owens’ Restaurant — an Outer Banks staple that’s been in his wife’s family since 1946.

Shannon downplays his role at the restaurant — joking that he merely changes light bulbs — but he puts in long hours. And one disadvantage of interacting with people all day is that it’s hard to hide when something’s wrong. Shannon’s family and customers noticed he was irritable. The cause of his discomfort? A shower. He’d had water stuck in his ear for several days, and it just wouldn’t clear. His balance was off. His mood was off. But restaurant life doesn’t slow down for anyone, and Shannon isn’t the type to, as he puts it, “whine” about a little hearing loss.

Finally, when everyone around him had had about enough, Shannon called Dr. Jackson, recommended by a colleague, at Outer Banks Ear Nose and Throat. “They just told me to come on, and they worked me right in,” says Shannon. Dr. Jackson unclogged Shannon’s ear, and the relief was immediate. “It was wonderful,” Shannon says. “Everybody did a great job. Everybody was compassionate, everybody seemed to care that I was in discomfort. I had a great experience.”

Back at Owens’, people noticed Shannon was his old self again. “They’d say, ‘You’re not as grouchy as you were last time!’ This close-knit culture is part of what makes the Outer Banks unique — a culture that Shannon says hasn’t changed much, despite how the Outer Banks has expanded. “It’s a warm, friendly place,” says Shannon. “I’ve got a lifetime full of friends around.” Great people make The Outer Banks Hospital a special place, too, according to Shannon. “A good, professional, clean building is just a good, professional, clean building,” Shannon says. “But it’s the people in it that I think make it a good hospital.”