A Heart Afire
Helen Brooke Taussig's Battle Against Heart Defects, Unsafe Drugs, and Injustice in Medicine
368 pp., 6 x 9 in, 5 b&w illus.
- Published: December 12, 2023
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A deeply compelling biography of the pioneering children's heart doctor Helen Taussig, who helped start heart surgery and became a global force against preventable suffering.
In A Heart Afire, Patricia Meisol renders a moving portrait of the indomitable pediatrician and global patient activist Helen Taussig (1898–1986), who famously gathered and publicized evidence linking thalidomide to birth defects, leading to US drug safety laws. Taussig also developed the Blalock-Taussig shunt (along with Alfred Blalock) for infants with congenital heart defects. Spanning Taussig's childhood in Boston, her struggle with dyslexia, her progressive hearing loss, her research contributions, and the founding of her own fledgling children's heart clinic, this book chronicles Taussig's ambition, tenacity, and formidable work ethic. As Meisol shows, Taussig not only saved lives but also set a bold precedent for other women doctors in the twentieth century, who were largely excluded from medicine.
Meticulously researched and intimately told, A Heart Afire is unique in its use of a fifty-year-long campaign by Taussig's followers for a worthy memorial portrait and shows how views of women doctors have evolved. Meisol reveals Taussig as an authentic American hero, one who embodies the Emersonian ethic of developing oneself, following the processes of nature, and serving the public. A fiercely independent thinker, Taussig infused herself and her ideas into the medical culture, paving the way not only for other professional women but also for patients then and now to advocate for themselves. Offering an indispensable look at health care as a universal human right, A Heart Afire is a beacon and a blueprint for creating a more just and compassionate world of medicine.
“An enormous work—and, indeed, achievement—covering a life that explores most of the twentieth century. This impressive piece of research is not just about one woman, but also about the health of a nation and global developments in science and medicine.”
Claire Brock, Associate Professor, University of Leicester; author of British Women Surgeons and Their Patients, 1860–1918
“A masterfully told story. Patricia Meisol's exciting and entertaining account of Helen Brooke Taussig's achievements is accessible for a general readership and will interest historians and doctors too.”
Thomas Schlich, James McGill Professor in the History of Medicine, McGill University; coeditor of Technological Change in Modern Surgery