‘Stem Cell Symphony’ nicely blends science, mystery

For more than a decade, Ricki Lewis has been writing science research articles and science textbooks

For more than a decade, Ricki Lewis has been writing science research articles and science textbooks. She published one of the first popular articles on human embryonic stem cells in 1997, but it was her own work as a hospice volunteer that gave her the idea to write her first book of fiction, “Stem Cell Symphony.”

The story follows Kelsey Raye, a geneticist who becomes tired of working with flies that have legs growing out of their heads, and decides to become a writer for Bio Tech USA, a science research magazine.

‘Stem Cell Symphony’

AUTHOR: Ricki Lewis

PUBLISHER: Trafford Publishing, 223 pages, ISBN 978-1-4251-8

HOW MUCH: $25.69

As she says, “I’ve been writing my whole life. I finally decided I prefer the constant changing of topics in journalism to the intense focus of one problem in science, such as the organization of parts in a fly embryo.”

After Raye’s father dies, she becomes impressed with his hospice volunteer, a young woman named Teri. Being the typical journalist, Raye asks what it’s like to be a hospice volunteer. “We’re trained,” says Teri. “Psychology. Spirituality. Medical stuff. Then we visit patients in nursing homes or hospice facilities, but mostly in their own homes, like your dad.”

Teri also mentions how rewarding it is to be a volunteer. “When we start visiting people, we notice how good we feel afterwards, knowing we are helping. At first, we think it’s weird to feel good talking to a dying person, but we get more out of it than we give.”

Raye decides to take the plunge and become a hospice volunteer. The training is quite intensive and, being an atheist, she struggles with the spirituality portion. As she says to her hospice educator: “I remember watching my mom in the hospital. I thought if there really was a God, that would be a good time for Her to appear. Was that praying? Because if it was, it sure didn’t work. I’m afraid that when it comes to life and death, we’re no more important than the tiniest bacterium.”

Changing life

Becoming a hospice volunteer ultimately changes Raye’s life. Her first patient, a young man named Stuart Matheson who is suffering from Huntington’s disease, makes a profound impact upon her.

Raye had written a column years earlier on the disease and knew how debilitating it could be with its seizures and tremors and eventually how the body just shuts down, leaving only the mind alert to the very end.

Stuart was only 32 years old and forced to live out his last days in a nursing home. He could only move his eyes and still had some control over his mouth, which was helpful when he tried to refuse foods he hated, such as meatloaf sandwiches.

From reading his file, Kelsey discovers that Stuart likes rock music. She decides to bring in her iPod so they can listen to music together. She sees an almost instant transformation in him. His deformed feet move just a little, and he even moves his arms.

Kelsey visits Stuart weekly, playing music, talking to him, holding his hand, and watching his joy at listening to his favorite songs. She comes to the realization that he may be dying, but he isn’t dead. He thinks and feels like anyone else, and the music seems to be halting the degenerative effects of the disease. Stuart actually seems to be getting better, and Kelsey theorizes that the music is activating stem cells, somewhat like an opiate.

But once word gets out about her findings, she soon faces a backlash from conservative groups and politicians who fear anything to do with stem cell technology.

Exciting mix

Lewis, who lives in Burnt Hills, has written an exciting work of fiction with the proper mix of romance, mystery, science, spirituality and even political intrigue. She raises some big questions in this book about the use of stem cells, but what I liked most were some of the human interactions and complications caused by her stem cell theories and her work as a hospice volunteer.

I look forward to more books by Ricki Lewis, and I hope that one day she might even write her own memoir about her work as a geneticist and as a hospice volunteer.

“Stem Cell Symphony” can be found at The Open Door on Jay Street and The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. It can also be purchased through Amazon.com.

Categories: Life and Arts

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