Friday, June 11, 2010
There are Mountains Beyond Mountains in Haiti and Rwanda
In 2003 Tracy Kidder published Mountains Beyond Mountains which vividly describes the "mountains" Dr. Paul Farmer and his associates crossed to bring equitable medical care to Haiti. Although Farmer's pioneering treatment of multi-drug resistant TB in Peru and Russia is also chronicled in the book, Kidder's story begins and ends with Haiti. In fact he wrote that Farmer "would always return to Cange. It seemed to me that he didn't have a plan for his life so much as he had a pattern. He was like a compass, with one leg swinging around the globe and the other planted in Haiti."
Yet by 2004 Paul Farmer had journeyed to a new frontier and a new home in Rwanda. This country had made a remarkable recovery from the horrific genocide of the prior decade, but was still in dire need of medical care. Partners in Health established hospitals in the neediest regions with the help of the Clinton Foundation, and Paul Farmer was directly involved from the beginning in selecting sites. It might come as a surprise, but Farmer decided that Haiti had become too dangerous to raise his family, so he moved his wife, Didi Bertrand, and daughter, Catherine, to Rwanda with him. They have since adopted a Rwandan baby daughter, Elizabeth, in the same year that they had a new son, Sebastian.
Farmer's associate and co-founder of Partners in Health, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, has gone on to become the new president of Dartmouth College in 2009. Last month he invited Tracy Kidder to give a talk at Dartmouth to discuss Kidder's new book, Strength in What Remains. The imprint of Paul Farmer can be felt in this book, too, which follows the journey of a Burundi refugee, Deogratias, from homelessness in New York to Dartmouth Medical School and back to Burundi where he established a medical clinic. The common factor in this story is Paul Farmer, who introduced Tracy Kidder to Deogratias. And so it goes.