Staff Perspective: “Gifts of the Heart” Review

Staff Perspective: “Gifts of the Heart” Review

Provider sustainment is a challenge facing many military mental health and other health care providers. The book, “Gifts of the Heart,” written by Dr. Hassan A. Tettah, is a tale of how a Navy surgeon sustains himself through and after his arduous deployment in the Helmand Valley of Afghanistan. While this story is not an autobiography, it was influenced by real life events. The author was a Navy surgeon who first deployed to the Persian Gulf in 2005 and then later deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. It is a patriotic and moving story about the challenges faced by medical providers in combat. This book is well-worth reading and even rereading,

I was first interested in reading this book because I had really been moved by Dr. Heidi Kraft’s “Rule Number Two.” I was hoping for a surgeon’s perspective on how trauma is handled by a medical provider that is not a psychologist. Like “Rule Number Two,” this book uses specific medical terminology that encouraged me to bring a dictionary to my latest reading. I had read about the combat experiences from several infantry perspectives in Afghanistan and was looking forward to reading from the perspective of a medical provider in this region.  

The strength of this story lies in the inspirational lessons of humility, sacrifice and having the courage to persevere.  The protagonist of “Gifts of the Heart,” Dr. Afram states in the book, “I make the impossible, possible.”  This story reflects the challenges of how an immigrant family could come to America and make their dreams a reality.  It shows how once we are in this country and adopt it as our own, the decision to defend it becomes obvious. The protagonist in this story is as skillful as he is kind.  He feels a connection to others and wants to make a genuine difference in the lives of those he touches. He leads from the front and is not afraid to face difficult challenges regardless of the circumstances. Although he confronts almost every obstacle, the last chapter, “To Lead,” focuses on our own humanity and the limits of greatness. 

I was really moved by this story because it highlights how acts of kindness have no color.  We regularly hear about the Middle Eastern insurgents that have harmed American troops. However, we often do not acknowledge those Middle Eastern heroes that fight by our side and place their own families and their own lives at risk to improve their country. This perspective is important in portraying an accurate depiction of combat and reduces prejudice towards those of Middle Eastern descent.  Working with Service Members, I have often heard about their fear that they or their family will be attacked by Middle Eastern persons, yet the only Service Members I have met that have lost family members to insurgents have been those Middle Eastern warriors that sided with the U.S..

A second reason that I enjoyed this book is the spiritual influence and commentaries.  The use of spiritual guidance and prayer is sometimes underreported as a factor in resilience and provider sustainment. This story reflects how biblical verses and devotion to living a Christian life may assist one in enduring horrific events. The idea of “plowing on and not looking back” is powerful and effective.  Tragedies in war are inevitable and ruminating on them rather than confronting them and taking action is an important lesson that is taught in this book.

Finally, this book gives an important portrayal on the importance of humility and service to others.  The author, Dr. Tettah, shows how we can never be too injured to lead and make a difference in others’ lives.

This book is well-written and a testament of the importance of touching others and making the world a better place. I have recommended this book to many of the psychology interns at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that are learning about deployments and provider sustainment. 

One should be prepared for a book that is powerful in its message and has a spiritual undertone. We could only hope that Dr. Tettah will treat us with another book in the near future. Enjoy the story and look for a possible interview with this author on the CDP website in the future.

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Dr. Augusto Ruiz is a Deployment Behavioral Health Psychologist with the Center for Deployment Psychology at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (Navy) in Bethesda, MD.