First Word: Inventing The Future of Medicine
You would think after all this time as editor of this magazine, I would cease to be surprised at the mighty achievements of Irish-Americans. We have showcased the measure of that success down through the years, and yet the honorees profiled in this issue give me pause. The incredible work that they do – in research institutions, clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities – is mind-boggling.
And inspirational as it is, it is equally heartwarming to see the appreciation that our honorees have for their Irish heritage – music, dance, storytelling – and the strong emphasis on education.
Researchers agree that innovation and perseverance are key components of success, and perhaps these characteristics, which all our honorees have in abundance, are inherited traits from past generations. Driven by need, our ancestors had to be inventive, and in living through hard times, they had to be strong in their resolve to survive.
When it comes to perseverance and innovation, Dr. Kevin J. Tracey, immunologist, neuroscientist, and inventor, is like no other, as you will read in our cover story by Maggie Holland. He and his team at the Feinstein Institutes have invented a device that, implanted in the vagus nerve, can stop inflammation. It’s bioelectronic – the medicine of the future!
And while each of our honorees is outstanding in their particular field, in the scientific world, Dr. Patricia Broderick deserves a shout-out. She has spent her career working on biopsychiatric conditions like anxiety, depression, and schizoaffective disorders, and has invented a probe that scans the brain in real time.
The Irish are vulnerable to mental illness (a recent study shows that 18.5% of the population in Ireland suffer from a mental disorder), which is much harder to treat than physical maladies. In a poignant essay in this issue, a mother writes about supporting her daughter as she suffers through mental illness and drug addiction; and in another stirring prayer/ poem, we learn the pain of watching a sibling suffer from schizophrenia.
Hopefully, with new technology such as The Broderick Probe, patients with mental health disorders can expect better outcomes in the future, and that will be something truly worth celebrating.
ON A SAD NOTE:
As we were just about on press with this issue, news reached me of Saoirse Kennedy Hill’s death. I knew Saoirse. As a child, she was such a bright spark, full of laughter and devilment. As a young woman, she embraced social causes, helping to build schools in Mexico and do other volunteer work. She was never afraid to speak out when she encountered injustice, a trait she inherited from her parents. Her mother, Courtney, is the daughter of Robert Kennedy, and her father, Paul Hill, is an outspoken campaigner for human rights, having been wrongly imprisoned for 15 years. I once asked Paul if he was bitter about the injustice he had suffered and he said no. “If I hadn’t been in prison, I would probably have been shot on the streets in Belfast. I would never have met Courtney, or had Saoirse. She [Saoirse] was my victory.”
I thank Deerfield Academy in advance for permission to publish Saoirse’s essay. It’s a wonderful piece of writing and it deserves wide distribution, for it will surely help some other young person who is suffering from depression. I can think of no better way to honor Saoirse’s memory. Rest in peace, beautiful girl. ♦