Book Review: Ticker

Ticker: The Quest to Create an Artificial HeartTicker: The Quest to Create an Artificial Heart by Mimi Swartz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The person who comes up with a way to replace a failing heart with an artificial one, then, will save countless lives and change the future of humankind, much as Louis Pasteur or Sigmund Freud did, or Jonas Salk or Marie Curie. And, of course, the doctor or engineer (or, more likely, the team) who figures out how to make one will likely become very, very rich.”

This is what we are presented with in Ticker: The Quest to Create an Artificial Heart by Mimi Swartz. The book tells the sordid history of a group of surgeons all vying to become the god-like creator of the first artificial heart. Swartz is a stunning and detailed researcher and the book flows well throughout the decades. She starts with the birth of Michael Debakey and Denton Cooley as the “bad boys: of cardiac surgery in Houston. From there, Swartz takes the reader on the stunning and sometimes vaguely unethical battle to be the best, to beat the competition, and to cash in for as much money as humanly possible. My only disappointment is that the book just seemed to end with no conclusion. That could be due to the unfinished tale of the artificial heart but it still could have wrapped up a bit better in my opinion.

I had some knowledge going into the book as my husband’s uncle was on the ground floor of Baylor’s race to be the best in cardiac care but much of the information was new to me. Readers who have grown up in Houston will know the cast of characters and possibly even the history of the cardiac teams that come into play. This book is not for the faint of heart, however. These are real people that have been used as guinea pigs and sometimes, that’s disheartening and upsetting. Know going into it that the early days of heart surgery were akin to the Wild West and not everyone was on the up-and-up.

*I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.*


Book Review: Small Great Things

Small Great ThingsSmall Great Things by Jodi Picoult

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My experience with Jodi Picoult’s novels has been hit or miss. Small Great Things, however, was a home run and it stayed with me long after I put the book down.

Like many of Picoult’s novels, Small Great Things is told from two perspectives. One is a white supremacist whose son has died and the other is the black nurse who was tending to the boy at the time of his demise. Both accounts are terribly difficult to read and Picoult has done an amazing job bringing both sides of the argument to life. There were times that I had no choice but to sympathize with a man over the loss of his son. Two pages later, I found myself repulsed by his words and actions. It was an intense read.

As always, Picoult has done her research. The medical facts and legal notes stick to reality relentlessly making for a powerful story. I applaud her for the digging she did into the White Supremacist psyche. I know that could not have been easy.

This is a book that cannot be ignored in this day and age. It’s important to understand each other, even when the other side is spouting hate and nonsense, there is a human underneath the doctrine. I’m not expecting this book to change the world, but it certainly presents the human side of people that seem entirely un-human. This book is a must read across the board.

Book Review: Mercies in Disguise

Mercies in Disguise: A Story of Hope, a Family's Genetic Destiny, and the Science That Rescued ThemMercies in Disguise: A Story of Hope, a Family’s Genetic Destiny, and the Science That Rescued Them by Gina Kolata

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If there was a strong possibility that you carried a defective gene that causes a disease that leads to an early painful and prolonged decline and ultimately an untimely death, would you want to know? If you have the gene, it’s not a matter of if the disease strikes you, but when. So, which path do you choose? It’s not an easy question, even hypothetically, but that is the very real situation in which Amanda Baxley finds herself at the beginning of Gina Kolata’s moving tale of a family’s battle to stop a killer gene in its tracks.

Mercies in Disguise takes readers on a journey to New Guinea where tribes were struck down by a mysterious disease known only as kuru. From there, readers follow the path scientists took to discover what is known today as the “prion,” the culprit behind Mad Cow Disease, Chronic Wasting Disease, and Scrapie. Kolata also looks at the speculative future of prion disorders, thinking about how that might play into Alzheimer’s research going forward.

While the science is an important aspect to this book, the human element is by far the most interesting. The Baxley family has been struck down, one by one, over several generations by a mysterious and debilitating disease. Sometimes diagnosed as Alzheimer’s, sometimes diagnosed as Parkinson’s, and sometimes diagnosed as Alzheimer’s complicated by Parkinson’s the Baxley’s are in need of answers before the disease claims another victim. In a family of doctors, they begin to experiment on themselves. Finally, a genetic link is found leaving the next generation, that of Amanda and her siblings, to decide what to do with their knowledge while simultaneously watching their father die after losing their uncles to the same terrifying disease.

Gina Kolata balances the science and the human extremely well. There is enough science and technical jargon for someone in the medical field but she also breaks down the medical facts in a way that is approachable for the casual reader. Kolata primarily follows Amanda’s struggle which allows the reader to really develop a personal connection with the family. From the very first line, this book drew me in and refused to let me go until the final word. Certainly a must read!

Help Dani Get Healthy

The sass is strong with this one. (Shared From Dani's GoFundMe Page)

The sass is strong with this one.
(Shared From Dani’s GoFundMe Page)

A really good friend of mine needs our help.  I met Dani through The Sims 3 gaming site and we’ve become fast friends.  She’s funny, sarcastic, smart, and one of the sweetest people I know.  She’s always quick to lend a hand.  Dani is a wonderful mother to her three spunky kids and a loving wife.

I found out today that Dani needs surgery and has to pay $2500 out of pocket.  Her family has set up a GoFundMe page to offset the cost of these expenses.  If you have the means, please donate.  Otherwise, please share the link.  Together, we can make a difference.


An Open Letter to the Waitress Who Doesn’t Believe I Have Celiac Disease

This was originally posted on but was flagged for review after much backlash.  Please click it to enlarge and read.  Then scroll down to read my letter to this waitress.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

To the waitress who doesn’t believe I have Celiac:

I was really upset after I read this.

I understand where you are coming from.  Working in the food industry is difficult and diners can be very demanding.  I know a lot of customers come in on “fad” diets and have odd requests regarding meal preparation.  However, contrary to your uninformed opinion, you cannot tell who has a gluten allergy and who does not.

I have Celiac Disease–that’s the autoimmune one. I have a formal diagnosis from a doctor. It’s in my medical record. It’s why I can’t join the army like I had planned 10 years ago.

I go out to eat frequently. I’ve gone to Italian restaurants and eaten their gluten free pasta (never with alfredo sauce though because that DOES have gluten in it). More often than not I’ve gone home without issue. On the flip side, I’ve gotten contaminated in the kitchen of my own house.

What you fail to realize is the fact that everyone manifests symptoms differently regardless of if they have the allergy or the disease. I get cramps, nausea, UTIs, anemia, and a rash. I have a friend who gets mild bloating. Another friend goes into full anaphylactic shock with even microscopic contact. We all have formal diagnoses.

I know going into the restaurant that I could get contaminated. Like I said, I’ve worked in the business. I know what goes on in the kitchen first hand. I do what I can to prevent it. I order from the gluten free menu and alert my server to my condition. Other than that it is out of my hands and ultimately I am taking a risk.

I refuse to seclude myself because it creates a minor inconvenience for you. I will not apologize for something that is entirely out of my control. I sure as hell did not ask for this disease. It has upended my life and changed everything. You say that it is not all about me when I go out to eat.  Well, honey, it’s not all you you either.

The fact is, your restaurant probably has a gluten free menu which is why I’m eating there. So deal with it or find a new place to work that does not cater to the 20 million gluten intolerant people in the United States alone.  Or perhaps your could just show some sympathy because I promise you, if I could trade this disease away I would in a heart beat.  But I can’t so here we are.

It’s taken me 2.5 years to start correcting 22 years worth of damage from this illness.  Please, I beg you, don’t gamble with my health because you don’t know or understand and won’t learn the facts. A little compassion goes a long way.

A Card-Carrying Gluten Intolerant Diner