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Dr. Paul Farmer, a friend to all, is helping the world

When Dr. Paul Farmer comes to Brooksville on Dec. 13, he will no doubt talk about the global AIDS crisis and the grim toll of treatable diseases such as typhoid and tuberculosis.

He may tell his old friends about hurricanes that killed hundreds of Haitians this year and left behind standing water that threatens to set off "a massive outbreak of malaria,'' according to the Web site of the organization he helped found, Partners in Health.

His explanation of the underlying cause of most of this misery, the inequality of health care among rich and poor countries, will leave folks squirming with guilt.

But then again, he might recall the upside-down Christmas tree he put up in the Hernando High cafeteria. Anyway, I hope so.

Farmer, as you should know by now, grew up in Brooksville, graduated from Hernando High (Class of '78) and went on to become internationally famous for bringing first-rate health care to poor countries such as Haiti, Peru and Rwanda.

He is coming home for a day full of events in his honor: the signing of copies of a book about his work, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder (1:30 p.m., Main Library), a presentation recognizing Farmer as the 2008 Great Brooksvillian (4:30 p.m., City Hall) and a fundraising reception (5:30 p.m., SunTrust Bank parking lot).

Altogether, it's shaping up as the most impressive charitable drive in the city in years. Organizer Tricia Bechtelheimer, owner of Westover's Flowers & Gifts (352-796-3519) has collected $37,000 in cash and in-kind donations from nearly every sector of the business community, though not as much as she had hoped from Farmer's fellow doctors.

She is now hard at work selling $100 tickets for the reception, which she hopes will bring the total to at least $50,000.

People seem to be clamoring to be a part of this, as they should be.

Partners in Health set global standards for treating AIDS and drug-resistant tuberculosis, mostly by insisting on providing excellent care — not just adequate, never just adequate — in the most neglected corners of the world.

Bechtelheimer is determined to keep the focus on this work, and not turn the weekend into a glorified high school reunion. That's right, too, because nobody would be making this fuss if Farmer had used his brilliance to, say, build a high-dollar practice in an affluent suburb.

But I also don't think they would be making such a fuss if being around Farmer wasn't fun, if he wasn't the kind of teenager who organized cherry tomato wars, or pulled off the Christmas-tree stunt, or invented a secret language with his friends.

"The main reason he's so successful, besides being such a genius and so brilliant, is he's such an openly friendly person,'' said Laurie (Hogan) Locke, one of the fundraiser's sponsors.

"One of the things that has come out in all this is that so many people considered him their best friend.''

So it's no surprise that patients in far-off countries trust him, and young doctors devote their careers to his cause, and donors write checks, and Kidder, who said Farmer's smile is "like a welcome gladly given,'' decided to make him the subject of his acclaimed book.

And there's nothing wrong with celebrating that.

Dr. Paul Farmer, a friend to all, is helping the world 11/24/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 26, 2008 2:16pm]
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