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April 1, 1974

Holy Man and His Disease

JAMA. 1974;228(1):78-80. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230260052032

It was about 18 months ago that historian-author Gavan Daws and his charming wife sat on our lanai overlooking the sea at Haiku... and discussed leprosy. Not the usual cocktail hour chit-chat, but then Daws was launched on a most unusual project. He was researching a biography on the life of Damien De Veuster—Father Damien, the controversial martyr of Molokai.

I had admired Daws' earlier work The Shoal of Time— a scholarly, brightly documented, flowing history of the Islands. While visiting mutual friends on Maui he learned that I had worked at Kalaupapa, the Hansen Disease Settlement on Molokai. And so we met.

For many years I have maintained a peripheral interest in leprosy—whetted by several trips to the settlement in the mid-60s. And so, long into the night we explored aspects of leprosy, recent therapeutic developments, its mysterious pathophysiology, the psychosocial environment of Kalaupapa, and the historical impact