Even as the U.S. grows more diverse, the medical profession is slow to follow

I’ve never cared for a Hmong child, but I often think about what it would be like.

The summer before we started medical school, I and other students were advised to read Anne Fadiman’s “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.”

The book chronicles the illness of Lia Lee, a Hmong girl with severe epilepsy, and her family’s saga navigating the American medical system. The Hmong come from Southeast Asia.

The story has become a symbol of the sometimes devastating consequences of a cultural divide — a cautionary tale of miscommunication, misperception and mistrust, culminating in a catastrophic two-hour seizure and permanent brain damage. Lia died in 2012, after living the last 26 years of her life in a persistent vegetative state.

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