Mimi Jones Hedwig 

Writer, Editor, Animal Advocate

Book review blog

WHAT THE EYES DON'T SEE by Mona Hanna-Attisha

Posted by mhedwig on August 12, 2019 at 2:35 PM

A science story as accessible, fascinating and important as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha was a pediatrician and head of the residency program at Hurley hospital, a public hospital in Flint, MI, in 2015, when rumors and complaints of problems with the city’s water supply began to surface. She reassured her young patients’ parents that the local health officials had told her the Flint water was perfectly safe.

But then she did more digging, and began to suspect the awful truth: when Flint made the cost-cutting decision to switch from the Lake Huron water that served Detroit to water from the polluted Flint River, the extremely corrosive nature of that water began to release lead from the ancient pipes that supplied the city. Probing the data, she verified that her patients’ blood lead levels had spiked after the water switch—and there is no safe level of lead exposure; it’s a potent and irreversible neurotoxin. Dr. Mona (as she is called) feared that thousands of her Flint babies and young children, already bearing the burdens of poverty and racism, were doomed to suffer the catastrophic longterm effects of lead poisoning.

At great cost to her health and family life she mounted a full scale battle to get a state of emergency declared, to supply bottled water and pre-mixed baby formula to Flint residents, to fight the stonewalling of bureaucrats, and get the Flint water supply switched back to Lake Huron. Ultimately she succeeded against enormous opposition.

Not only is this a stirring story of personal courage and the triumph of good science over lies and obfuscation, it is also a testimonial to the strength that immigrants bring to America—at a time when immigrants are being vilified and suspected. Hanna-Attisha’s family, and her husband’s, are Iraqi immigrants who seized the American dream in their grateful hands, became successful, and were determined to give back. Having survived the terror of Saddam‘s regime, Mona’s parents taught her to stand up against corrupt authority and to oppose injustice. Her passion for the struggling families and children of Flint, her outrage at the official unconcern for their welfare, radiates from every page. She is a true heroine, and her story is inspiring and moving.

Categories: Nonfiction