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The Way Forward

By Thomas Burke

I vividly remember speaking with the parents of childhood leukemia victims in New Jersey in 1978. These were parents who lost their kids. They had a tremendous sense of loss, a tremendous sense of anger and suspicion about industry, about exposures, about things that may have contributed to that cluster.

At my first public meeting, there were hundreds of people jammed into this grammar school auditorium. As I began to say what we would do, a woman stood up and said, “Mr. Burke, I don’t care what you’re going to do. You’re never going to bring my baby back!” It stopped the meeting. She stormed out crying.

Having been in a family where there have been people I love who died, I can understand the human part of that, but I also had to be an epidemiologist, a scientist responding to communities.

We have to have a way to scientifically move forward. What we can do is do the best investigations possible so that if we identify risk factors, we reduce the risk for future children, so they won’t be lost. And that’s the promise of the future. We shouldn’t turn away from these things. They’re difficult, and they’re gonna be really, really challenging but we need to continually improve our science so we can do better, understand the causes and prevent these tragic losses.