“As long as you have your health, you have everything,” my mother, Norrie, used to say. She said a lot of things that annoyed me when I was younger, but as the years go by I realize that she was right about everything, especially about health being your most important asset.
Many of us are guilty of taking our bodies for granted. We concentrate on our careers and accumulating material possessions, and we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t over-indulge in life’s pleasures from time to time. But with age comes wisdom, and aches and pains, and morning stiffness; and let’s not forget the seasonal ailments: cold and flu. (And in this political climate, anxiety is apparently catchy, too.)
Whatever our politics or lifestyle choices, we all face the unknown – the rogue gene that can cause heart disease, diabetes, cancers, or other disorders. And then there are environmental factors that cause the spread of contagious viral illnesses.
Tuberculosis was the scary monster of my childhood, the “silent terror” that ravaged Ireland for much of the last century. People lived in fear of being struck down and worse, shamed, as T.B. carried a stigma similar to AIDS in the 1980s. My best friend in high school, Maura, contracted TB, was separated from her family and quarantined in a state sanitarium. She did survive but she was one of the lucky ones, she was born mid-century. In Ireland’s not -too-distant past, TB was an epidemic – patients went undiagnosed and, in time, were “consumed” to death.
I flashed back to that experience when I spoke to Elaine O’Hara as we went to press on this issue. Elaine runs the North American vaccines division of Sanofi Pasteur, the global biopharmaceutical company. I can never hear the word vaccine without being grateful for how far we’ve come in defeating once-killer diseases.
Which brings us to our Fifth Annual Health issue, featuring some of the best and brightest people in the fields of biology, medicine, homeopathy, bioscience, and technology. These men and women are the future of healthcare. In addition, there are wonderful stories of past trailblazers, including an Irish woman who posed as a man in order to become a doctor and went on to have a very successful career; and a character made famous by James Joyce, who was inspired by a brilliant surgeon; and a man named Murphy, who turned surgery into performance art and lent his name to many medical devices used today!
Then there’s our cover story on Mike Mahoney, the chairman & CEO of Boston Scientific. Mike has spent his whole career in healthcare and is now in charge of one of the world’s largest medical device companies. “We are working on a pacemaker that is the size of a thimble and it is leadless – there is nothing that goes in the heart,” Mike told me when we met up in New York in September.
Boston Scientific, which has three plants in Ireland, is also working on devices to manage pain in Parkinson’s disease and stroke patients, and “all kinds of digital applications, patient interfaces, and artifical intelligence.”
And the extraordinary thing about all of this futuristic medical technology is that a lot of the research Boston Scientific is doing is being done in Ireland by Irish scientists, which is one hell of a recovery for a country that was once raked by poverty and disease.
My mother, always right, would be in awe.
Mórtas Cine. ♦