Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE LASSA WARD by Ross I.  Donaldson


One Man’s Fight Against One of the World’s Deadliest Diseases

by Ross I. Donaldson

Pub Date: May 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-312-37700-7
Publisher: St. Martin's

Intrepid medical-school student confronts a deadly virus decimating West Africa.

During his second year of medical school, Donaldson became intrigued by the deadly Lassa fever, a rat-borne hemorraghic virus closely related to the Ebola and Marburg varieties that, left untreated, virtually liquefies the body’s internal organs. Convinced he could help ease the suffering, he spent the summer of 2003 in civil-war–torn Sierra Leone, where Lassa was reaching epidemic proportions. The trip, Donaldson admits, while initially an exhilarating “mix of danger and adventure,” soon became an all-encompassing endeavor that he came close to regretting several times. After a tour of the poverty-stricken environs, the author apprenticed under renowned Lassa expert Dr. Conteh, who was in charge of the Lassa ward in the town of Kenema. A desperate fight to save a female villager from cerebral malaria would pale in comparison to Donaldson’s months of frenzied work in the 20-bed facility, especially after Conteh departed for a week to oversee a program of health-care training, leaving the author in charge of the ward. Though overwhelmed and unprepared to make some of “the most critical decisions of [his] life,” Donaldson and his bare-bones medical staff trudged on, diagnosing, curing and sometimes burying contagious villagers as lines continued to form outside his door. Near the end of his time in West Africa, Donaldson faced an extremely tough personal challenge as well—a diagnosis of myocarditis, a crippling, life-threatening autoimmune disease. Passionate humanitarianism permeates the author’s memoir. In a heartfelt epilogue, he compassionately acknowledges that the work he performed in West Africa is integral to the way he practices medicine today.

A rewarding memoir.