Sunday, February 14, 2016

Scenes from an antique auto convention in Philadelphia

Spent three days in Philadelphia at the 80th annual convention of the Antique Automobile Club of America, foremost such group in the world, signing copies of CAR CRAZY: The Battle for Supremacy Between Ford and Olds and the Dawn of the Automobile Age, presenting a seminar, and meeting a lot of great people. Totally enjoyable!

The AACA is a class organization, and they ran this thing as smooth as velvet. A special shout-out to AACA executive director Steve Moskowitz and communications and marketing director Stacy Zimmerman for keeping the trains -- cars?! -- running on time. Thanks again to Steve Chris Ritter and others at the AACA for their help in writing Car Crazy.

My trip coincided with an op-ed piece, "Time, Again, for Electric Cars to Take Center Stage," that I wrote for the Friday, February 12, 2016, Philadelphia Inquirer. Worth a read.

Herewith some photos from the convention and the city:

1935 Buick. Sweet.

'35 Chevy. Look at that mirror shine.

Chris Ritter and crew from AACA Library. Great guys, great help on the book.

Yes, folks in Philly were Car Crazy!

Cars across America.

1934 Pierce Arrow.

Vintage car clothing.

Today: A 2016 Corvette. Wanted to leave in this one!

Dain King presents a judging seminar. Dain has led a most interesting life.

The light fades as night nears in a city in winter.

Philadelphia 30th Street train station.

A cold sparrow.

A colder platform.

The city recedes. Heading home to Providence - and Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Hardy Hendren, legendary children's surgeon, turns 90

I was delighted to join many good friends of Eleanor and Hardy Hendren on Sunday, February 7, at their Duxbury home to celebrate Hardy's 90th birthday. Ninety! And this now-retired giant of surgery is still going strong, if no longer picking up the scalpel at Boston Children's Hospital, where he was Chief of Surgery for many years, while also holding a surgery professorship at Harvard Medical School, among many other titles. He is emeritus at both institutions.

Eleanor asked me to say a few words, and I was honored to pay tribute to a man who has done "more good for more people over more years," as I phrased it, than anyone I have ever known. In the tens of thousands of patients he healed, in the countless young doctors he trained and mentored and who went on to heal so many more, and quietly with his generous contributions to individuals and causes, this is demonstrably true.

I met Hardy more than a quarter of a century ago, and his invitation to immerse myself in his world without precondition or limitation was not just a stroke of luck -- it was a watershed in my non-fiction writing career. For some two years, I followed him outside and inside Children's, during office visits and lectures and Grand Rounds and hundreds of hours in his operating room, where surgery on his most complicated cases -- separating conjoined twins, for example -- often lasted for more than 24 hours. I had my own Children's ID and locker in the surgeons' quarters. I received signed permission for every adult patient and the guardians of children whose operations I observed, but still, this would not be possible today with contemporary privacy-patient rules.

The resulting 1991 Providence Journal newspaper series, "Working Wonders," and the 1993 book THE WORK OF HUMAN HANDS: Hardy Hendren and Surgical Wonder at Children's Hospital (since updated and republished in several editions), launched me into my non-fiction book-writing career. Interestingly, THE WORK OF HUMAN HANDS was the very first book purchased by a then-junior editor at Random House, Jon Karp. I did three more books with Jon: COMING OF AGE, TOY WARS and KING OF HEARTS, which began when I met open-heart pioneer Dr. C. Walton Lillehei at a lecture and dinner sponsored by Hardy at Children's. Jon is now president and publisher of Simon & Schuster, where a couple of years ago he published my co-written book, TOP BRAIN, BOTTOM BRAIN.

But I digress. The point is, Hardy helped make all this possible, and I am deeply indebted. He has been a dear friend for all these many years, and I am grateful for that, too. He and the lovely Eleanor have welcomed me into their family. What more could a writer -- and friend -- want?! Thanks Hardy and Eleanor. Here's to many more.

Hardy and Eleanor at start of the party.

Surgical humor!

Hardy, Eleanor and me.

He blew 'em all out in one breath!

Hardy's son David, center, and his dad.


A later edition of the book.

Join me on another visit to Hardy's, three years ago.

Friday, February 5, 2016

KING OF HEARTS: Still standing after all these years

Sixteen years after publication, my fifth book, KING OF HEARTS: The True Story of the Maverick Who Pioneered Open Heart Surgery, continues to be read, sold, and receive reader acclaim on Amazon, with a 4.8 of 5 stars rating.  This, in addition to the extensive praise by critics when it was published. I thank them all! KING OF HEARTS remains, shall we say, very dear to my heart. I was privileged to be able to tell this story.

I regularly receive email from readers, most recently from a high school student in Minneapolis who is writing a History Day project on the invention of open-heart surgery, chronicled in KING OF HEARTS. This is a tribute to the late Dr. C. Walton Lillehei -- and his courage and conviction.

The student who reached out to me asked several spot-on questions, and here are two, with my answers:

1. How do you think Lillehei’s discoveries transformed Minnesota’s medical industry and the world? What was the reaction like from people at the time?

Here was a man who with surgical genius, iron will, extraordinary perseverance and an inability to take no for an answer conquered the last great surgical frontier of that time – one could argue, of all time. Truly, open-heart surgery was the Wild West when he began, and it was a civilized place, if you’ll pardon the metaphor, when he was done. The transformation was revolutionary, far-reaching, and the root of many industries and professions we now take for granted.
 Reaction? Some though he was crazy, even murderous (I get into this in King of Hearts in some detail). Others – the parents of dying and previously doomed kids – thought him a savior, even God, almost literally. Some colleagues envied him, others tried to thwart him and the smart ones wanted to be on his team, or at least study with him. The media? Went wild. I chose the chapter 10 title deliberately: “Lourdes in Minneapolis.”

 5. How did he deal with pressure from the medical community and the pressure of when he ran into deaths of patients?

Having faced death himself – first, during combat in the Second World War and then with his own cancer – Walt was fearless. He really was. He knew that the road he had chosen would be filled with danger and loss, but he had to travel it to get to a time, a set of techniques and a technology where millions of lives would be saved. So, he just kept going. Got up every morning and fought the dragon, as it were. Eventually, it was slain.