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Global health equity champion Paul Farmer was a great doctor, but an even better human being

The world bids a sad farewell to Dr. Paul Farmer, champion of global health equity.

You can often tell a lot about a person's life by how the world responds to their death. Over the weekend, when I started seeing a flood of social media messages from healthcare professionals that included words like "devastated" and "gutted," it was clear that someone of influence in the medical world had passed. I'm not in healthcare, but even I recognized Dr. Paul Farmer's name, largely from this quote of his:

"The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong in the world."

After spending decades working and living in various countries around the world, making sure people in underdeveloped nations had access to quality healthcare, Dr. Farmer passed away from an acute cardiac event in his sleep in Rwanda at age 62. His death was like a seismic event in the field of global health, launching a tsunami of grief and remembrance felt around the world, from heads of state who met with him to fellow physicians who worked with him to individuals whose lives he saved.


"It is hard to find the words to express the sad news of the passing of Paul Farmer—the person, the Doctor, the philanthropist. He combined many things hard to find in one person," wrote Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda.

Farmer was physician, a professor, an anthropologist and a fierce advocate for the world's poor. In 1987, he cofounded Partners in Health, one of the world's leading global health and social justice organizations dedicated to bringing high-quality healthcare to those who need it most. Farmer's philosophy was straightforward: The fact that poor people die of illness we have effective treatments for is unacceptable. Farmer's life's work was a testament to his belief that where you live and how much money you have should not determine your right to healthcare.

But Farmer's advocacy work was also much more personal than that. He didn't preach about global equity from atop an ivory tower; he worked on the ground, at the grassroots level, doing hands-on medical care in some of the poorest parts of the world.

Much of Farmer's work involved getting effective AIDS treatments to patients in Haiti and Rwanda in the face of pushback from those who felt it was too expensive or that cultural differences would get in the way. Farmer refused to accept inequity and did everything he could to alleviate it.

“Human rights violations are not accidents; they are not random in distribution or effect," he wrote in "Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor." "Rights violations are, rather, symptoms of deeper pathologies of power and are linked intimately to the social conditions that so often determine who will suffer abuse and who will be shielded from harm.”

He was uncompromising in his belief that every human being, regardless of circumstances, should have access to the best healthcare humanity has to offer. Being born into or living in poverty does not give anyone less of a right to health, and if we have effective treatments for illness and disease, everyone should have access to them.

He touched countless lives—those he treated and those he accompanied in the field of service. Often it was people in the medical field he trained with, but he even inspired people outside of healthcare to use their privilege and know-how to better the lives of others.

When you pass away and everyone who met you has only the most glowing things to say about you, you know you've lived a good life. The world has lost not only a great doctor, but a champion of global health equity who serves as an example to us all.

"His vision for the world will live on through Partners in Health," Sheila Davis, Partners in Health CEO, wrote in a statement. "Paul taught all those around him the power of accompaniment, love for one another, and solidarity. Our deepest sympathies are with his family.”

Watch PBS News Hour's remembrance of Dr. Farmer below, and for more details of his extraordinary work, I highly recommend Tracy Kidder's profile of him in The New Yorker. The man was truly a legend of a human being in all the best ways possible.

Rest in peace, Dr. Farmer. Thanks for showing us how it's done.

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Noe Hernandez and Maria Carrillo, the owners of Noel Barber Shop in Anaheim, California.

Jordyn Poulter was the youngest member of the U.S. women’s volleyball team, which took home the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was named the best setter at the Tokyo games and has been a member of the team since 2018.

Unfortunately, according to a report from ABC 7 News, her gold medal was stolen from her car in a parking garage in Anaheim, California, on May 25.

It was taken along with her passport, which she kept in her glove compartment. While storing a gold medal in your car probably isn’t the best idea, she did it to keep it by her side while fulfilling the hectic schedule of an Olympian.

"We live this crazy life of living so many different places. So many of us play overseas, then go home, then come out here and train,” Poulter said, according to ABC 7. "So I keep the medal on me (to show) friends and family I haven't seen in a while, or just people in the community who want to see the medal. Everyone feels connected to it when they meet an Olympian, and it's such a cool thing to share with people."

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Memories of childhood get lodged in the brain, emerging when you least expect.

There are certain pleasurable sights, smells, sounds and tastes that fade into the rear-view mirror as we grow from being children to adults. But on a rare occasion, we’ll come across them again and it's like a portion of our brain that’s been hidden for years expresses itself, creating a huge jolt of joy.

It’s wonderful to experience this type of nostalgia but it often leaves a bittersweet feeling because we know there are countless more sensations that may never come into our consciousness again.

Nostalgia is fleeting and that's a good thing because it’s best not to live in the past. But it does remind us that the wonderful feeling of freedom, creativity and fun from our childhood can still be experienced as we age.

A Reddit user by the name of agentMICHAELscarnTLM posed a question to the online forum that dredged up countless memories and experiences that many had long forgotten. He asked a simple question, “What’s something you can bring up right now to unlock some childhood nostalgia for the rest of us?”

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