A Heroic Doctor, Author, and Activist

Watch the half-hour interview with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha 

“Its’ one thing to point out a problem… it’s another thing altogether to step up and work to fix it. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a true American hero.” – Erin Brockovich

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a physician, scientist, and activist who has been called to testify twice before the United States Congress, awarded the Freedom of Expression Courage Award by PEN America, and named one of Time magazine’s 100 Influential People in the world. She authored the book What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of  Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City, an expression which she first heard ruing her pediatric residency. It’s based on a quote by D.H. Lawrence.

What the Eyes Don’t See reveals the inspiring story of how she, accompanied by a distinctive team of researches, parents, friends, and community leaders, proved that Flints’ kids were exposed to lead and then fought her own government and a brutal backlash to expose that truth to the world. It begins with stories of her early Chaldean family life and throughout, she interweaves the influence of that culture in her upbringing. Born in England, it was her grandfather Haji who came up with her name Mona, which means “hope, wish, or desire,” thinking it would be easy for both English and Arabic speakers to pronounce. Her family lived in England as her father, Michael David Hanna, studied at the University of Sheffield for a doctorate in metallurgy.

Trained as a chemist in Iraq, Dr. Mona’s mother was an avid reader who at bedtime, entertained her children with stories of the ancient capital of Baghdad, once the most advanced, prosperous, and progressive civilization in the world – the center of mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. She would weave stories of Mesopotamia’s history with strands of mysticism and fables, the romantic tales of Sinbad, Ali Baba, and Alad­din as told by Shahrazad.

Dr. Mona’s parents always assumed they’d be returning to Iraq one day, but over time, they realized that “the Iraq they knew was lost, replaced by war and ruins.” Eventually they immigrated to the United States, and lived in Houghton, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where her father was a postdoctoral researcher at Michigan Tech University. Mona started elementary school at age four, after her parents mistakenly wrote her birth date in European style on the school forms; it was misunderstood as September 12 rather than December 9, so she was always the youngest in her class.

After her father finished his postdoc and was hired by GM, the family moved to Royal Oak where they lived for the next fifteen years. Mona and her older brother Michael were only a handful of other minority kids in their schools and experienced their share of being called “camel jockeys” and other ethnic slurs.

Mona writes that though these incidents were infrequent, they did seem to coincide with U.S. military actions against Arab countries, usually Iraq, that kids were hearing about in the news. “Even though we didn’t talk about them, they stung.”

But she confers that the promise of America worked for her family like it did with so many immigrants over the centuries. Her mother eventually returned to college to validate her chemistry degree from Baghdad University, getting a master’s in chemistry and a teaching certificate at the same time. She ended up working in school districts. As for her father, he never really stopped working.

Dr. Mona had wanted to be a doctor as far back as she can remember, attributing this desire to several factors: obsessively watching M*A*S*H reruns growing up; the story about her grandfather Haji when he fell out of a tree and doctors took care of his broken leg; the family car accident that led her, as a child, to the hospital where a caring physician made it seem like everything was going to be okay.

Given that her parents are both scientists who raised their children to love multiplication and periodic tables and the majestic order of the natural sciences, it wasn’t difficult for Mona to enter a field that dealt with biology, chemistry and math. “Education was the religion of our family, embraced as a way to a better life but also a richer, more intellectually alive existence.”

In high school, Mona had powerful experiences as an environmental activist so she created an environmental health major at University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, merging environmental science and pre-med courses. That’s where her passion for activism, service, and research were solidified, followed by four years of medical school at Michigan State University, where her last two clinical years were in Flint.

Mona beautifully describes her love for attending to children and helps heal them and make them feel better. “A crying baby gives me a sense of mission. Deep inside I have a powerful, almost primal drive to make them feel better, to help them thrive. Most pediatricians do.”

Her husband, Elliott, is also a pediatrician.

In her book, Mona mentions the story of her distant cousin, a bacteriologist named Paul Shek­wana, one of the first public health scientists from the Middle East, from Iraq, to work in America. After studying at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in England, he was hired in 1904 by the department of pathology at George Washington University in D.C. Shortly afterward, he was called to Iowa City, where a deadly outbreak of typhoid fever had struck.

He was brought in to work with the Iowa State Board of Health Bacteriology Lab, where an entire floor of the new Iowa City Medical Building was given over to his lab team. There, Shekwana investigated, among other things, the tie between unpasteurized milk and typhoid. But he didn’t stop there; he promoted new public health regulations in Iowa and beyond. His most important contribution, Mona writes, may have been an article published in the New York Medical Society Journal in 1906, urging all doctors to wash and disinfect their hands throughout the day, particularly before and after seeing patients.

Over a century later, there are undeniable similarities between Shekwana’s and Mona’s careers. After a friend told her that researchers found high levels of lead in Flint residents’ homes, Dr. Mona performed her own research and discovered this to be true. In a September 4, 2015 press conference, she urged residents, especially children, to stop drinking the water. This was a risk to her career as traditionally her research had to be scientifically peer reviewed.

Not long after, the City of Flint, the State of Michigan, and the United States made emergency announcements. Dr. Mona initially received some backlash from the State of Michigan, but after The Detroit Free Press published its own findings consistent with hers, they backed down.

Dr. Mona writes, “We each have the power to fix things. We can open one another’s eyes to problems. We can work together to create a better, safer, world.”

She’s right.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha has a number of upcoming literary events, including at West Bloomfield Library on April 23rd. This event is in collaboration with the Chaldean Cultural Center. For more information, visit https://monahannaattisha.com/public-events

Dr. Mona Hanna2

 

An Extraordinary Doctor

 

This time last year, I flew to Los Angeles to participate in an incredible documentary called The Staff of Mercury, which is produced by Dr. Homayoun Sadeghi, MD.  It is a visionary film intended to transform people’s lives around the world, especially with regards to health and wellness. It launches in 99 days and recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Sadeghi on my show. It’s always wonderful to reconnect with him as he has a wealth of useful information and enormous positive energy. Furthermore, his story is truly fascinating.

For the longest time, Dr. Sadeghi dreamt about being a healer, but it was years of hard work and persistence before he found his true purpose in life. In his 20s, he felt a calling to be a healer, to do something greater than himself. He went back to school to become a doctor. After he attained his license, he realized that being a doctor didn’t necessarily make him a healer. He was helpless in trying to cure chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Little did he know that this is the beginning of his “Medicine Man” journey.  

“People do get healed here and there but when they do it’s often not because of what we doctors do but because of the inner resilience and tenacity they themselves must erupt to overcome their challenges,” he said.

He spent the last decade of his life interviewing, experimenting, and researching and studying things like alternative medicine, mind-body approach and the like. He found none of these in and of themselves are 100% effective. The ultimate cure for all these disease probably already exists. We just haven’t found it yet.

“We keep searching for answers in darkness,” he said. “As we touch new sign posts, we keep shifting our beliefs and mindsets.”

Dr. Sadeghi reminds us that there was a time not long ago when we thought the earth was flat; when we gave our soldiers free packs of cigarettes; when doctors endorsed their favorite cigarette brands; when we gave estrogen to even pregnant women. He adds that most doctors who practiced long enough know that many of the treatments they once learned in medical school are now considered acts of gross negligence.

“That’s because we keep learning and shifting our mind sets,” said Dr. Sadeghi. “We constantly keep changing the landscape and growing, evolving.”

He asks, “What if there was a way for you to be healthy and disease free well into your retirement years? What if you can live a much more vibrant and energetic life with just a slight shift in your mindset?”

Over the years, through a lot of ups and downs and trials and errors, he has gained amazing insights and knowledge that he hopes will change and inspire people’s lives. He shares it through these incredible insights through a brilliant mind expanding documentary called The Staff of Mercury.

“Why do I want to share?” he asks. “Because my own life and growth depends on it. Long ago, I realized that my own redemption depends on my ability to give, help, love, and serve others. We are all on the same planet. We breathe the same air and share the same earth grown food. We all depend on each other. I can’t elevate myself unless I help elevate you.”

Dr. Sadeghi is the author of The Art of Healthy Living: A Mind-Body Approach to Inner Balance and Natural Vitality. In it, he explains how health takes effort, and that this effort starts from the inside out. 

To learn more about the Staff of Mercury, visit