During the course of my education I have had the good fortune to meet several of my medical and scientific heroes among them James Watson (though I found him less than heroic in person) and Paul Farmer who has consistently lived up to his glowing reputation across our encounters. This week I added another name to that list Peter Hotez.
For those of you who are unfamiliar Dr. Hotez, he is Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, Director of the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development, Texas Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair of Tropical Pediatrics. To these already heavy responsibilities he adds University Professor at Baylor University, and Fellow in Disease and Poverty at the James A Baker III Institute for Public Policy.
While all these roles and responsibilities are laudable and impressive the reason I admire him is far larger part due to his personal characteristics. Most notable among these is his continued commitment to the service of others despite the enormous challenges in his personal life. As recorded in his book, Vaccines Did not Cause Rachel’s Autism, which I will likely review in a later blog post, Dr. Hotez recounts the personal and professional burdens of raising a child with severe autism and cognitive deficits. The fact that he persisted in doing so in a field in which his daughter’s condition has been weaponized against him and his life has been threatened makes it all the more impressive. I also deeply admire his genuine commitment to science and those engaged in it. Regardless of one’s opinions on Step 1 and other licensing exams his arguments regarding one’s 20’s being among the most creative of one’s life and the need for medical school to nurture that regardless of whether it will be officially evaluated is moving to listened to. Another major aspect of his character I have come to admire is his enormous humility. I think it is the rare public figure or senior academic who willingly recounts their areas of weaknesses and the efforts they continue to make to address them even after having achieved worldwide success. The last and least-minded reason Dr. Hotez is my hero is simply because he embodies the extent to which our shared passions can be pursued and valued. As I commented upon our meeting the boy who used to never stop talking about schistosomiasis had finally met the man who has dedicated his life to silencing it forever.