Jimmy Carter, with his volunteer projects and international diplomatic work, is probably our highest-profile living former president. The highest profile among former first ladies is unquestionably that of the woman who now serves as U.S. secretary of state.
Meanwhile, a predecessor of the latter, who also happens to be the wife of the former, quietly goes about the task of making the world a better place.
Rosalynn Carter doesn’t make lots of headlines these days. For that matter, she wasn’t especially prominent in the headlines when her family lived in the White House back in the late 1970s.
But for more than 40 years, she has served the country and the world in more ways than most people know. Through the not-for-profit Carter Center in Atlanta, she has devoted her energies to issues of human rights, early childhood immunization and, most prominently, mental health.
She received, and earned, a spot in the headlines last weekend as recipient of the University System of Georgia Regents’ Hall of Fame Alumni Award. She was honored Saturday night at the Regents’ Awards for Excellence in Education gala in Atlanta.
A 1946 graduate of Georgia Southwestern in Americus, she was honored by her alma mater in 1987 with establishment of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving at GSW. The name is not merely ceremonial; she continues to serve as board president of the institute, which is dedicated to education and awareness about the needs of mental health patients, families and caregivers.
Attention is something Rosalynn Carter has seldom if ever sought for its own sake, and her work has seldom if ever received enough of it. Saturday night’s honor was a welcome exception.
It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie or a book of speculative fiction: A person loses a body part, and high-tech science quickly and routinely replaces it.
The hand transplant Emory University Hospital surgeons performed earlier this month in Atlanta was neither quick nor routine. The operation took 19 hours, and the 21-year-old woman who received the new hand will need months of rehab and physical therapy. The attached hand is expected to last 15-20 years at best, so it is not a lifelong fix. At least not yet.
But this is exciting progress in reconstructive medicine, and no mistake.
There have been only a few successful hand transplants in the U.S., and the technique is certainly in its infancy compared to the relatively familiar realm of organ transplants.
But the implications -- especially for soldiers wounded in combat, but also for anybody who suffers a disabling injury or illness -- are profound.