True health stories-3 medical memoirs that share the HEART of health

I think the best medical books are those about real people who face real health challenges that are often life changing or even life threatening. There is nothing like experiencing a serious illness or injury to make you an expert about it.

I read lots of books for my own pleasure and to review for this blog. Although health/medicine can be a genre in itself, many different types of books and media can illustrate medical science.

Some are fiction including drama, comedy, and often science fiction. One I have reviewed here is

Say Goodbye for Now.

SAY GOODBYE FOR NOW- A Novel
SAY GOODBYE FOR NOW by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Most however are non-fiction. One in this category that I reviewed relates medical history.

Pandemic by Sonia Shah
PANDEMIC BY SONIA SHAH

Pandemic

Medical writers often explain medical conditions, offer information on treatment options, give advice, and encourage healthy habits. One of these is

Mind Over Meds

MIND OVER MEDS- book cover
MIND OVER MEDS BY ANDREW WEIL, MD

But as helpful and interesting as these are, I think the best medical books are those about real people who face real health challenges that are often life changing or even life threatening. There is nothing like experiencing a serious illness or injury to make you an expert about it.

And when the person with the problem writes or tells the story, we don’t just learn about it, we feel the emotions it provokes also.

Share your story

I have reviewed several of these “medical memoirs” here and will likely continue to do so. In a way, we are all living our own health journeys and many of you could offer reflections on how you and your family deal with your unique medical challenges.

If you are willing to share the perspectives you have gained through a health issue or medical experience, contact me; I would love to read it, and maybe share it here with my other readers. Your remarks may remain anonymous if you prefer.

Explore these “medical memoirs” with me.

The Best of Us

A Memoir

by Joyce Maynard

Ms. Maynard’s story opened with a  failed marriage/bad divorce saga with adult children torn between the two parents, persistent anger and bitterness, and attempts to ease the pain with a series of bad choices in lovers. Equally sad was her telling of a complicated  and ultimately failed adoption attempt.

Finally she and we can breath a sigh of relief when she meets a man and seems to have found true love at last. But that comes to an abrupt halt when he is diagnosed with cancer.

From then on she poignantly describes a life turned upside down as she enters new territory as a caregiver. As she relates how their lives changed, we the readers are changed also, learning to recognize what is truly important in life. As Ms. Maynard  writes,

“success, money, beauty, passion, adventure, possessions- have become immaterial. Breathing would be enough.”

Read this book if you want your assumptions about life and death to be challenged and changed. You may read an excerpt at this link

The Best of Us-Chapter 1

Tears of Salt

A Doctor’s Story

by Pietro Bartolo; Lidia Tilotta

Dr. Pietro Bartolo practices medicine on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, in the Mediterranean Sea. Lampedusa, known for its friendly people, sunny skies, pristine beaches, and turquoise waters famous for fishing, seems an idyllic place to live, work, and visit.

But for the past 20 years, Dr.Bartolo has cared for not just residents and tourists, but for hundreds of refugees- people who risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean from northern Africa, fleeing poverty and political unrest. The lucky ones land on shore injured and sick. The unlucky ones wash ashore dead, having died en route or drowning after falling from a capsized or wrecked boat, sometimes only a few feet from shore.

In this memoir, Dr. Bartolo shares the stories of many of these people, giving them the names and faces that we don’t see watching news stories about the refugee crisis. He also shares his own life story of growing up on the island, leaving for medical school, and returning to raise a family and to practice medicine.

Dr. Bartolo’s story was also told in the documentary film FIRE AT SEA

He never expected to become the front-line help for hundreds of desperate people. With no specific training on how to manage an avalanche of desperate, sick, and injured refugees, and with little resources, he manages to put together a system for triaging, evaluating, and treating these people, then sending them on for more advanced medical care or to immigration centers in Europe.

For the less fortunate, he serves as medical examiner, to determine the cause of death for those who do not make it to Lampedusa alive; sometimes taking body parts to extract DNA to identify them, so families can be notified. He states he has never grown comfortable to this aspect of his job.

As a physician myself, I marvel at Dr. Bartolo’s caring and commitment to people who will never be able to repay him for his sacrifice. He approaches his work as a mission of mercy, and treats every person with the utmost respect, no matter their circumstance. Some of the people he treats become almost like family; he has even tried to adopt a couple of orphaned children but cannot due to legalities.

Dr. Bartolo’s story reads like a conversation. I think you will like him, and admire him for his dedication and selfless service.  His life should encourage all of us to consider what we can each do to lessen someone else’s suffering.

Follow this link to my review of

Love conquers fear-a memoir of hope

The Napalm Girl’s Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness and Peace

I received a free digital or paper copy of these books in return for posting a frank review on my blog and/or social media.

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explore the HEART of health with me

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

Please follow me on social media (links in the side bar). I look forward to sharing more information and inspiration to transform your health journey.

                              Dr. Aletha 

How one woman handles life’s “trump” cards- a book review

This is not one of those “how we went through a horrible experience and survived by our unshakable faith” stories; rather it is “how we went through extraordinary stress which tested our faith which survived and grew anyway”.

Sara doesn’t tell you how she solved her problems; she admits that her problems caused her to change the way she looks at life, faith and God.

I ran into Sara Stophel, author of TRUMPED BY SOVEREIGNTY and asked her what’s happened new in her life since I reviewed her book. Here’s what she said.

“I finished my Bachelor of Science, Liberal Studies degree this August (2018). Basically, a general degree with minors in Education and Music and a bunch of courses in social work and psychology! I am job hunting…the areas that really draw me in have been in the organ donation area, writing area…and pretty much all the non-profits! Passions lie there. :-)”

Her personal life is going well also. Her son Nik (whose photos appear in this post) works for Samaritan’s Purse.  Samaritan’s Purse is one of the organizations I feature  on my Share the HEART of health page. He is engaged to a young woman who will soon graduate as a nurse. Another son is dating a young woman who is a medical resident. So of course I’m happy to see the Stophel family supporting the health care professions.

Continue reading here or go to this link for even more exciting news about Sara and her family.

Here’s my review of Sara’s moving and inspirational memoir.

TRUMPED BY SOVEREIGNTY:

Juggling Faith, Healing, And Submission to God’s Perfect Plans

BY SARA STOPHEL

A MEMOIR

“Damen Ballard, twenty-five, left his apartment on April 19, 1995, to grab a pack of cigarettes at the convenience store. On his way back he took the shortcut…crossing I-44 on foot at rush hour. He was hit and became a John Doe while doctors tried to save his life. Even as we were watching the terrible news of the Oklahoma City bombing down the road…and fighting against all of those feelings of desperation when we discovered no hearts would be coming…Chuck’s new heart was just two floors above us in the very same hospital.”

large storm cloud
photo by Nikolai Stophel

Sovereignty is a word you may not use or even hear often; I know I don’t.  Probably the most common usage is in a political sense, like the sovereignty (authority) of a nation. Maybe that’s why Sara Stophel offers this definition on the back cover of her book;

“‘Sovereignty’ means that God, as the ruler of the universe, has the right to do whatever he wants. Further, he is in complete control over everything that happens.

In a game of cards, a trump card overrules any card previously played … But what happens when that “game” is actually life? And what happens when you realize that God’s sovereignty is the final trump card?”

Trumped by Sovereignty is two stories in one book.  One story relates the multiple medical challenges faced by Sara, her husband Chuck,  their children and extended family. The other story describes how Sara coped with these challenges, especially in relationship to her Christian faith.

I have known Sara and her family for several years and already knew much of their story although not all. I know Sara to be direct, truthful and frank. She does not mince words.

(I did not consult Sara prior to writing this review.  I paid for my copy of her book.)

This is not one of those “how we went through a horrible experience and survived by our unshakable faith” stories; rather it is “how we went through extraordinary stress which tested our faith which survived and grew anyway”.

Sara doesn’t tell you how she solved her problems; she admits that her problems caused her to change the way she looks at life, faith and God.

a tornado in Oklahoma
photo of an active tornado by Nikolai Stohel

Sara’s book describes multiple medical conditions that afflicted her family (yes, afflicted is exactly the right word). The list reads like a medical textbook, so much so that you may need to look up some of the terms to understand what they are; she does not describe them in detailed scientific terms.  (I’ve included some links for you to use.)

Between Sara, her husband Chuck, their children and extended family they endured –

Sara and Chuck met in college, a Christian university that is known for its belief in divine healing. However, Sara’s home church did not teach miraculous healing. So it was a new concept for her, and one she found difficult to reconcile as her family’s serious health issues continued to worsen and not respond to medical treatment much less prayer.

She does not expect you to believe that she endured these challenges and tragedies due to strong and unwavering faith; rather she freely admits otherwise. As she puts it, her “truster” frequently breaks and needs repair.

“I could not commune with a God who did not honor my bigger-than-mustard-seed faith. I was more than certain God loved people…but I was also nearly certain He just needed me as a tool of transparency. My truster was broken. Having loved God my whole life, I couldn’t think of anything better…anywhere else to turn…so I just kept on serving and assuming the love and peace of God were for everyone but me.”

Sara sense of humor never wavers, both in her writing, and  in life; she probably could not have made it  through some of the days she has lived without it.

You will laugh, cry, or both at some of her stories like-

  • Her annual physical (which was a year late) with her doctor, Dr. LionKing (an offbeat humorous pronunciation of his real name)
  • Her first CPR class after a family death

And you may get angry as she describes her shabby treatment by the IRS, the cell phone company and the local fire department first responders who refused to take her critically ill husband to the hospital.

hugh storm cloud
impending storm captured by Nikolai Stophel

I encourage you to buy and read Trumped by Sovereignty. I know Sara and her sons which means I also know that their challenges are not over; in fact, they may be bigger than ever. I believe she will continue to face them with the same courage and humor that she has so far; and maybe in a few years she will write volume 2 of her story.

Trumped by Sovereignty is published by Paladin Publishing, Tulsa Oklahoma.

Sara Stophel welcomes invitations to speak; you can follow her on

Facebook  at Sara Stophel -author .

Sara Stophel with her book, Trumped By Sovereignty
Sarah showing her sense of humor, soon after the Presidential election . Is that the President-elect’s name?

Sara’s son Nikolai Stophel is a professional writer/photographer for Samaritan’s Purse. Prior to that position, he  covered the turbulent weather we have here in Oklahoma. His photos of Oklahoma storms illustrate this post. You can find more of his work on Instagram. 

On the 6th anniversary of Chuck’s release from illness and pain, his wife Sara reflected on her Facebook page-

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          Dr. Aletha