cover image Carville’s Cure: Leprosy, Stigma, and the Fight for Justice

Carville’s Cure: Leprosy, Stigma, and the Fight for Justice

Pam Fessler. Liveright, $28.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-63149-503-8

NPR correspondent Fessler’s polished and compassionate debut examines the history of Hansen’s disease (the modern name for leprosy) in America through the story of the Louisiana Leper Home in Carville, La. In the 1890s, New Orleans dermatologist Isadore Dyer established the quarantine facility for leprosy patients on the grounds of a defunct sugar plantation. In 1921, the U.S. Public Health Service took over Carville (as it was called by locals), making it the only national leprosarium in America. Fessler profiles several patients (most of whom were sent to Carville by mandatory state reporting laws), including her husband’s grandfather, and New Orleans debutante Betty Parker, who fell in love with a fellow patient and ran away with him. Fessler also documents the 1941 discovery that the antibiotic promin could be effective in treating Hansen’s disease, and notes that by the 1980s additional medicines had slowed new outbreaks and made most cases manageable. Carville’s planned shutdown was delayed until 1999, Fessler writes, because many remaining patients had nowhere else to go. Her well-researched and articulate account humanizes sufferers and caregivers alike, and offers hope in the medical field’s ability to halt the spread of contagious illness. Readers will be enlightened and encouraged. Agent: Gail Ross, the Ross Yoon Agency. (July)