HIS BROTHER'S KEEPER: A Story from the Edge of Medicine
Release date: 03/01/2004
At the heart of this report from the front lines of gene therapy and other regenerative medicine techniques lies a simple, heartbreaking question: "What would you do to save your brother's life?" When Stephen Heywood, a 29-year-old carpenter, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), his older brother, Jaime, launched his own research project to search for a cure. It was the late 1990s, shortly after scientists had cloned a living creature for the first time. So when Jamie told a friend about research demonstrating that the DNA of every ALS victim was missing a protein, his response ("Why don't you just put the damn protein back?") seemed wildly optimistic but not entirely impossible—if they could figure out how to do it in time. Weiner (The Beak of the Finch ) keeps the actual science to a minimum. The story's power derives from attention to small, human details, like Stephen's first symptoms of losing strength in his fingers. The emotional register is also strong; Weiner spends so much time with the Heywoods that they begin to refer to him as one of the family, and his closeness allows him to effectively contrast their handling of Stephen's condition to his own family's reaction to his mother's bout with a similar nerve-death disease. Weiner can't give readers a happy ending for Stephen, but he can—and does—offer a powerful account of equal parts ambition and hope. (Mar.)
Forecast: Weiner's The Beak of the Finch won the Pulitzer and his Time, Love, Memory won the NBCC Award. Also, Weiner has a five-city tour plus additional lecture tie-ins, as well as other national media planned.