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Beautiful Are the Hands: Medical Breakthroughs in Our Lifetime

Senior couple

Many of our senior citizens were born around the time of World War II. That was a time of great developments in the world of medicine. If those discoveries had occurred earlier, I might have grown up with two additional sisters and a grandmother. My closest sister might have jumped rope with me instead of leaning on her crutches and turning the rope while I jumped. Our neighbors would not have lost multiple blue babies. I feel sure that many of you lost family members to injuries and ailments that would be treatable today.

The release of the new book about the cure for blue babies caused me to reflect on how life-changing many medical treatments and antibiotics have been during my lifetime. Here are a few books that focus on the good news of the discovery of life-saving new ways to bring help and hope into the lives of people who would otherwise have died or been disabled. The books are mostly brief versions, written for students. They hit the highlights of each subject and include lots of illustrations. I am very thankful for the beautiful, helping hands of those who dedicated their lives to those professions that have helped us to keep our loved ones by our sides for a few more years.


Tiny Stitches: the Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks

Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks tells a horrible and beautiful story about a brilliant African American researcher. Vivien Thomas worked as a research assistant to Dr. Alfred Blalock who was asked to find a way to operate on the hearts of tiny babies called “blue babies.” Blalock assigned Thomas to do the research to find a procedure to repair those little hearts. Thomas developed tiny surgical tools and practiced on animal hearts. When the first patient came to the operating table, Thomas stood on a stool behind Dr. Blalock and coached him through the surgery. Thomas did not receive credit for his work, but the manner in which he rose above the prejudice of the time is beautiful indeed. Read the moving story of how this book came to be written.

Small Steps: The Year I got Polio by Peg Kehret

Small Steps: The Year I got Polio by Peg Kehret is an autobiography of the highly-acclaimed author’s experience with polio. So many scenes in the book brought back memories from my childhood of stories about my sister’s illness: the many times she went away for months at a time for surgeries, the Sister Kenny treatments my mother had to apply to her withered legs, and standing in line at the county courthouse to receive a sugar cube moistened with a drop of polio vaccine.

Polio by Tamra B. Orr

Polio by Tamra B. Orr is part of the Epidemics and Society series. The polio virus had been around for centuries, and most people had natural immunities to it that were passed down from mothers to babies. Once sanitation systems were developed, mothers no longer formed antibodies, so their children were vulnerable to attack. The book describes the polio epidemics in the U.S., the measures taken to prevent its spread, and successful treatments such as the Sister Kenny method of heating and then stretching muscles. The development of a polio vaccine almost eradicated polio in the U.S., but now post-polio syndrome is causing a return of symptoms to those who were sick with polio in childhood.

Antibiotics by Christine Zuchora-Walske

Antibiotics by Christine Zuchora-Walske is part of the Medical Marvel series. It traces the history of antibiotic development from ancient times until the present. Ancient people used herbs, beer, and other treatments to fight infection. In the 1670s scientists first saw microbes through a microscope. It wasn’t until 1941 that researchers first injected penicillin into a human test subject. By the time I was born, the first antibiotic-resistant bacteria began to appear. At this time, microbes have developed resistance against all classes of antibiotics, and we are in danger of sinking back into the dark days before antibiotics.

Joint Replacements by Leslie Galliker

Joint Replacements by Leslie Galliker is part of the Medical Marvels series. Arthritis was relatively rare until the 1600s, in part because most people died at a young age; however, even very young people can be affected by the disease. This book covers the full range of joint replacements that are available. It focuses on future trends such as arthroscopic surgery, using stem cells to grow any kind of cell the body needs, and using biological replacements.

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