New Books in Environmental Studies

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episode 170: Katherine E. Standefer, "Lightning Flowers: My Journey to Uncover the Cost of Saving a Life" (Little, Brown Spark, 2020)


As the push for a Universal Healthcare system in the United States becomes more and more popular among the American people, we’re beginning to have more public conversations about access to and affordability of medical care. While many of us may not consider our health insurance until we need it, for those with chronic conditions, the American medical system can be a nightmare of insurance claims bureaucracy and that prevents patients from getting the care they need at a cost they can afford. Worse, the rising prices of drugs and treatments developed in this for-profit system mean that some patients receive more medical care than they want or need, sometimes at the expense of their quality of life.

When a young Katherine E. Standefer was suddenly diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome—the same congenital heart condition as her younger sister—she was faced with what felt like an impossible choice: implant a cardiac defibrillator and be forever tied to the American Medical System, or take a chance with death. In her stunning debut, Lightning Flowers: My Journey to Uncover the Cost of Saving a Life (Little, Brown, Spark, 2020) Standefer explores this system as both a patient and a consumer, visiting factories in California as well as mining communities in Rwanda and Madagascar where the metals in her defibrillator were sourced to learn more about the true human cost of the device that was meant to save her life. Throughout, Standefer wonders whether her life is worth this price, and asks us to reimagine approaches to care—both in medical and environmental.

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