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Publisher's Summary

Lightning Flowers weighs the impact modern medical technology has had on the author's life against the social and environmental costs inevitably incurred by the mining that makes such innovation possible - “utterly spectacular.” (Rachel Louise Snyder, author of No Visible Bruises)

What if a lifesaving medical device causes loss of life along its supply chain? That's the question Katherine E. Standefer finds herself asking one night after being suddenly shocked by her implanted cardiac defibrillator.

In this gripping, intimate memoir about health, illness, and the invisible reverberating effects of our medical system, Standefer recounts the astonishing true story of the rare diagnosis that upended her rugged life in the mountains of Wyoming and sent her tumbling into a fraught maze of cardiology units, dramatic surgeries, and slow, painful recoveries. As her life increasingly comes to revolve around the internal defibrillator freshly wired into her heart, she becomes consumed with questions about the supply chain that allows such an ostensibly miraculous device to exist. So she sets out to trace its materials back to their roots.

From the sterile labs of a medical device manufacturer in southern California to the tantalum and tin mines seized by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to a nickel and cobalt mine carved out of endemic Madagascar jungle, Lightning Flowers takes us on a global reckoning with the social and environmental costs of a technology that promises to be lifesaving but is, in fact, much more complicated.

Deeply personal and sharply reported, Lightning Flowers takes a hard look at technological mythos, healthcare, and our cultural relationship to medical technology, raising important questions about our obligations to one another, and the cost of saving one life.

©2020 Katherine E. Standefer (P)2020 Little, Brown Spark

Critic Reviews

“In Lightning Flowers, Katherine E. Standefer offers a full accounting of the cost of a single life, and it is nothing short of astonishing. She travels, literally, to both the brink of death and the edge of the world to discover exactly what it means to live. Her courage is palpable, on the page and in life. This book is utterly spectacular.” (Rachel Louise Snyder, author of No Visible Bruises and What We've Lost Is Nothing)

Lightning Flowers is a quest for an answer to the most basic human question: what is a life worth? For a young American woman, kept alive by a hunk of metal in her chest, the answer is to be found in the African mines that produce titanium, cobalt, nickel...the precious metals used to make our essential microelectronics, including heart defibrillators. No trial in this quest can be avoided: heartbreak and debt, culture shock and corporate empire, medical indifference and poverty, trauma and mortality. There is an alchemy of tender magic and brute force in Standefer's writing; Lightning Flowers transports us into the heart of Africa - and the heart of a woman forced to question our global, racialized economy even as she identifies the raw materials that give her life.” (Ann Neumann, author of The Good Death)

“In her stunning debut, Katherine E. Standefer reveals how a single piece of supposedly lifesaving machinery has forever implicated her in ruinous global supply chains, how entire economies of extraction have come to reside deep within her body. With great clarity and resilience, Lightning Flowers invites us to become intimate with the moral and environmental calculus of our own lives.” (Francisco Cantú, author of The Line Becomes a River)

What listeners say about Lightning Flowers

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Eye opening and heart wrenching

As a healthcare professional with a brother who is an electrophysiologist, I was intrigued to hear Katherine Standefer’s story as a glimpse into what my brother did for a living; What I got was so much more! As a physician myself, I am always in awe of what life is like “on the other side” for a patient and the impact things like the style in which physicians communicate make a difference in a patient’s life. So many times, my jaw dropped at how the author was left feeling after a physician did not make her feel like she was heard and how our medical system continues to fail patients in this way everyday. I was grateful that she brought to light the struggles getting healthcare is when one is not insured despite every effort to get insurance. There are so many parts to this story that brought me to tears and made me angry over our broken healthcare system that leaves pharmaceutical companies and hospital CEOs making millions and leaving patients and physicians struggling to be at the center of the story and the ability to be the best. In this book, I was able to hear her story loud and clear. We need to do better.

49 people found this helpful

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Author sounds like she’s telling the story, not just reading

A veteran of long commutes, I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I’ve found that having a good narrator is critical for me to enjoy an audiobook.

Authors reading their own books are pretty hit -or-miss. In this case, the author does a great job. She sounds like she’s telling the story, like it was written to be spoken out loud.

The story itself is fascinating. I think it’s important to see different experiences in modern healthcare. Framing it in view of her own critical heart condition and critically examining what goes into healthcare devices is captivating.

42 people found this helpful

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I don't feel alone!

As an ICD person, whose device fired 12 time in 2019, I now feel that there is someone out there that is telling my story. Listening to every second of listening to Katherine's story made me feel that I was not alone. Also, her battle with the insurance and medical industry rang very familiar to me. Furthermore, I am grateful fo Katherine for her research into the intended and unintended environmental consequences of the manufacture of those devices

Thank you Katherine!

25 people found this helpful

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startlingly beautiful and raw

The author delivers her story with a raw, sweet tenderness. Part memoir, part medical exposé, part ecological and anthropological journey. Ms Standefer's performance is strong and intimate, immediate. A story and viewpoint that will stay with me a very long time.

19 people found this helpful

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there but for the grace of god

our lives like the author/narrator can change on a dime. Ms. Standefer is a remarkable writer. I highly recommend this.

11 people found this helpful

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recommended for all interested in healthcare

This beautifully written memoir should be required reading for those interested in healthcare. While the author goes into detail into what is involved in the making of her medical device, the parts about the patient/physician/payor relationship was what moved me the most.

10 people found this helpful

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An amazing book!

A fascinating and deep dive into the author’s experience navigating a genetic heart condition, the healthcare system, and the global effects and ramifications of mining the minerals needed to create lifesaving heart devices. Personal, extremely well researched and written, and pleasantly narrated by the author.

9 people found this helpful

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Must read

This book is compelling and a must read for anyone interested in Health policy and healthcare and anyone with a heart

7 people found this helpful

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A good story lost

First off I feel for this young lady as I have a family friend that discovered this genetic issue in 2 of her 3 daughters so it hit close to home after watching their struggles. But, the description of the book was misleading. I was intrigued by her quest and cause. It quickly turned into her admitted personal choices and financial decisions leading her to need to find unique ways to seek and finance treatment in spite of her upbringing and teaching.
Her journey to discovering the costs to humanity and the Earth for her to live was fascinating but unfortunately a small part of the book. Her struggles are real but false in their origins.
When she belittles a man's financial issues with the changes in insurance that hurt his financial planning it was over the top. She took pride in trying to humiliate him! She admits the insurance plan from a prior administration is broken but she will keep it as long as it benefits her!
Basically this could have been a fantastic investigative piece that shows the damage we are all willing to live with so long as our life is better. She lost her point by getting lost in the muck of politics and blame. The book was not about the cost of saving a life, it was about her lack of listening to doctors, her family and any constructive advice. She attempts to redeem herself by going on a mission around the globe to point out what others are doing wrong.

4 people found this helpful

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Privileged, entitled author with some good info

Interesting and informative, yet so so negative it was exhausting to listen to the end.
As someone in the health field I immediately purchased and listened, so excited to hear her perspective.
And while the medical field, as well as the field of electronics, does have many issues, the author seems to view everything from black colored glasses.
There is a focus on the negative and fault finding in almost every aspect of the book.

She is a privileged young woman with her parents funding her education, her health care costs and her lifestyle until she became an adult at which time she let her health insurance run out. Only after she has a health crisis she then realizes the wisdom of her father, yet continues to blame others that she does not have insurance.
By the end of the book it is clear she wants the best treatment, at the best hospitals, with specialists- while wanting others to pay for it.
But I digress….

The info about how medical devices are made and manufactured was interesting. I had no idea some of those things were involved in the parts of medical devices and electronics. It opened my eyes to the listing of the minerals what are involved in production.

The narration was perfect. It is not often the writer narrates this well and that made the book an easy listen.

Overall I would not recommend it, the entitlement factor ruined it for me.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Daisy
  • 03-17-21

Brave and important book

The author is a fantastic writer, who writes creatively and beautifully about a difficult experience and important topic. At times the link between the defibrillator and the mining industry seems tenuous or perhaps it is an important link but she could be more analytical of how the experience of having a foreign object in her chest fuelled her obsession with its earthly origin.