Friday, July 3, 2009

Mountains Beyond Mountains (2003)

This biography by Tracy Kidder follows the career of Dr. Paul Farmer who has taken upon himself the monumental task of curing tuberculosis in Haiti and other areas of the world.

"I imagine that many people would like to construct a life like Farmer's, to wake up knowing what they ought to do and feeling that they were doing it. But I can't think that many would willingly take on the difficulties, giving up their comfort and time with family."

While attending medical school in Boston, Dr. Farmer was trying to set up a system to treat TB patients and improve conditions to slow or stop the spread of the disease in Haiti. One of the challenges that this disease presents is that it takes two years of taking antibiotics to clear all the viruses. Any break in the regimen could mean that it can return resistant to those drugs requiring the patient to start all over with even stronger antibiotics. In addition to studying infectious diseases, Dr. Farmer also studied anthropology. He studied how the people lived, what they ate, and what they believed in and used this information to better serve them.

"Farmer received his Ph.D. and M.D. simultaneously in the spring of the following year, 1990. His thesis won a prize, and a university press accepted it for publication...By now, at the age of thirty-one, he'd dealt with more varieties of illness than most American physicians see in a lifetime. He'd also learned how to design and manage both a public health system and a clinic, built from scratch, in one of the most difficult places imaginable, among people whose governments had kept them illiterate, where on a good day concrete got transported by donkey."

It is a remarkable and inspirational story. Dr. Farmer found an abysmally poor corner of the world where good people suffered unnoticed and he took it upon himself to help them. Along the way others joined him in the battle. He traveled around the world at breakneck speed, never resting, healing, building, raising money, training others, and speaking. At times I found myself breathless as if I were trying to keep up with him. You can learn more about the organization he started, Partners in Health, at this website: View the video "This I Believe" and see if you aren't inspired.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has the desire to make a change and can't think how to begin.

My rating for this book: ++++

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