Book of­fers fas­ci­nat­ing and health­ful look at mat­ters of the heart

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - OPINION - Es­ther J. Cepeda Colum­nist cora­zon

My hus­band claims that ev­ery Span­ish song he’s ever heard in­cludes the word .Soifhe doesn’t un­der­stand any­thing else, he knows it has to do with mat­ters of the heart.

In love songs, as in life, the heart is at the very cen­ter of things, serv­ing as a ves­sel for end­less metaphors: It can be big, small, brave, chicken-y, the seat of the soul, a foun­tain of emo­tions, or just a ma­chine sus­cep­ti­ble to high-stakes plumb­ing is­sues.

The heart is also the ap­pa­ra­tus through which Dr. San­deep Jauhar, au­thor of the cap­ti­vat­ing mem­oirs “In­tern” and “Doc­tored,” has con­fronted his own mor­tal­ity as well as the death of both grand­fa­thers and his mother.

In his lat­est book, “Heart: A His­tory,” Jauhar takes read­ers on an in­tensely per­sonal jour­ney that started the mo­ment he no­ticed he was hav­ing a hard time breath­ing af­ter walk­ing up stairs. Jauhar won­dered whether his work as a first re­spon­der on 9/11 was catch­ing up with him or if his an­ces­try was clos­ing in.

For a reader like me who usu­ally de­vours al­most ev­ery pop­u­lar medicine, psy­chol­ogy and sci­ence book that comes down the pike — whether about can­ni­bal­ism, teeth, ca­dav­ers, nu­tri­tion or men who mis­take their wives for hats — it takes a lot more than a midlife cri­sis-in­duced trip into the in­ner work­ings of a par­tic­u­lar or­gan to make a book worth the read.

Jauhar de­liv­ers on emo­tional, tech­ni­cal and his­tor­i­cal fronts.

For how­ever many books about ad­vances in medicine I’ve read, I had never heard about the story of Dr. Daniel Hale Wil­liams, an African-Amer­i­can physi­cian who per­formed what is be­lieved to have been the first open-heart surgery.

In 1891, Wil­liams, a self-taught sur­gi­cal ap­pren­tice who com­pleted his train­ing at the med­i­cal col­lege that even­tu­ally be­came North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity Feinberg School of Medicine, had set up Prov­i­dent, the first AfricanAmer­i­can owned and op­er­ated hos­pi­tal in Amer­ica.

He had to in­vite the pub­lic into his op­er­at­ing room once a week to cre­ate trust with a marginal­ized com­mu­nity that had learned, through years of mis­treat­ment, that mod­ern medicine was not set up for blacks to have suc­cess­ful health out­comes.

Wil­liams’ in­cred­i­ble suc­cess story is tem­pered by oth­ers in “Heart: A His­tory” that re­flect some of the racism that has cre­ated fear of mis­treat­ment at the hands of sup­posed heal­ers.

In the late 1950s, when C. Wal­ton Lille­hei, pi­o­neer of a pro­ce­dure that used catheters and pumps to cir­cu­late blood be­tween two hu­mans in or­der to re­pair heart de­fects, needed a vol­un­teer to help an ail­ing black man, even the vol­un­teers of last re­sort — white in­mates at a pen­i­ten­tiary — re­fused to help the black pa­tient.

Lille­hei re­sorted to us­ing a dog’s lung to oxy­genate the man’s blood and he quickly died on the op­er­at­ing ta­ble.

Jauhar also tells us about women, like Mary Hop­kin­son Gib­bon, who was es­sen­tial in de­vel­op­ing the first heart-lung ma­chines that have made mod­ern sur­gi­cal heart pro­ce­dures pos­si­ble.

Jauhar re­lays other his­tor­i­cal events, cur­rent-day case stud­ies and per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences in beau­ti­ful, po­etic lan­guage.

The book wraps up with a call to in­ves­ti­gate how psy­choso­cial fac­tors like in­ter­per­sonal con­nect­ed­ness, joy, state of mind, the safety of our neigh­bor­hoods and the en­vi­ron­ment af­fect our health and well-be­ing.

No one knows whether the hu­man heart’s jour­ney from be­ing seen as an “in­vi­o­lable sanc­tu­ary” to what one writer called “an ob­ject of sur­gi­cal as­sault” will even­tu­ally re­sult in sure-fire med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy for ex­tend­ing life be­yond our cur­rent spans.

But if you learn noth­ing else from “Heart: A His­tory,” know that your views on this prom­ise will vary de­pend­ing on how good you feel af­ter a brisk walk.

Maybe lis­ten­ing to some sappy love songs can help.

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