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Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is coming to Maryland to talk about her book, which tells the story of her role in fighting the Flint, Michigan, water crisis.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is coming to Maryland to talk about her book, which tells the story of her role in fighting the Flint, Michigan, water crisis. (Courtesy)

When Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha took a job in Flint, Michigan, she didn’t expect to become a New York Times Notable Book author for writing about the water crisis that would plague her patients.

Hanna-Attisha didn’t know one day she would play a role in uncovering the tainted water, helping to lead recovery efforts and testifying before Congress. But she did.

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For these efforts, the pediatrician was named one of TIME magazine’s top 100 most influential people of 2016.

“I never intended to be an author,” Hanna-Attisha said in an interview Friday. “I did not go to medical school to write a book. But then again, I never intended to kind of be in the middle of this, you know, emblematic public health and environmental crisis.”

Hanna-Attisha penned a book about her experiences, titled, “What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City.” She’s making six stops in Maryland on her book tour with Maryland Humanities through Tuesday. Hanna-Attisha will visit Baltimore, Sykesville, Hagerstown, La Plata, Wye Mills, and Abingdon to speak and sign books. All tour events are free to attend, but seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

She said it’s been “overwhelming” to have the book gain attention and be selected as the Maryland Humanities’ 2019 One Maryland One Book read. Hanna-Attisha is “super excited” to return to Maryland, where her brother Mark used to live, in Takoma Park.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is coming to Maryland to talk about her book, which tells the story of her role in fighting the Flint, Michigan, water crisis.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is coming to Maryland to talk about her book, which tells the story of her role in fighting the Flint, Michigan, water crisis. (Kurt Stepnitz/Kurt Stepnitz)

The book takes readers through the journey of Hanna-Attisha learning about toxic lead in Flint’s drinking water and then taking action. She also weaves in stories about her personal life as an Iraqi immigrant.

Hanna-Attisha was tipped off by an old friend who happened to be a drinking water expert. They got their families together for a barbecue at Hanna-Attisha’s home in August 2015.

“She had come across a memo from a former colleague at the [Environmental Protection Agency], who was warning that there was improper treatment of the Flint water,” Hanna-Attisha said. “That was kind of the point that my life changed.”

Prior to then, she said she’d heard concerns about the water in the news media, but every report came with a cushion of reassurance alleging the water was still safe.

“And that’s what I was telling my patients, that the water was safe, when they would come to me and say ‘Hey, can I make my baby’s formula with water?’ ” Hanna-Attisha said. One of those very instances with a patient and mother is told in the first chapter.

Today, Hanna-Attisha’s life is divided among her work in Flint, helping other communities facing similar struggles and promoting the book. She is founder and director of the Pediatric Public Health Initiative from Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital.

“This is not just a Flint story. This is not an isolated story about that thing that happened a few years ago in that city over there with those people,” Hanna-Attisha said. “It’s about who we are and who we want to be.”

Hanna-Attisha said the book has become almost a “playbook” for resistance.

“Are we going to stay silent and accept all these injustices that are happening around us, especially to our most vulnerable population? Or are we going to resist and do better for our communities?” she said.

She hopes people will read the book and recognize the strength of Flint’s people.

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“Flint is not going to be remembered for this crisis, but really remembered for the hope and recovery that we’ve been able to build," Hanna-Attisha said.

If you go

Baltimore — Nov. 2, noon, Baltimore Book Festival Literary Salon, 2nd Floor Exhibition Hall, USM Columbus Center, 701 East Pratt St. Information: (410) 685-0095

Sykesville — Nov. 3, 1 p.m., South Carroll High School, 1300 W. Old Liberty Road. Information: (443) 293-3145

Hagerstown — Nov. 3, 6 p.m., The Maryland Theatre, The Ballroom, 27 S. Potomac St. Information: (301) 739-3250 ext. 168

La Plata — Nov. 4, 11 a.m., College of Southern Maryland, Fine Arts Center Theater, 8730 Mitchell Road. Information: (301) 934-9001 ext. 134 or (301) 934-9001 ext. 132 or (301) 934-7630

Wye Mills — Nov. 4, 7 p.m., Todd Performing Arts Center at Chesapeake College, 1000 College Circle. Information: (410) 822-1626

Abingdon — Nov. 5, 7 p.m., Abingdon Library, 2510 Tollgate Road. Information: (410) 638-3990

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