The Perfect Predator

A nonfiction book by Steffanie Strathdee, Thomas Patterson with Teresa Baker

Steffanie Strathdee & Thomas Patterson with Teresa Barker

Epidemiologist Steffanie Strathdee and her husband, psychologist Tom Patterson, were vacationing in Egypt when Tom came down with a stomach bug. What at first seemed like a case of food poisoning quickly turned critical, and by the time Tom had been transferred via emergency medevac to the world-class medical center at UC San Diego, where both he and Steffanie worked, blood work revealed why modern medicine was failing: Tom was fighting one of the most dangerous, antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the world.

Frantic, Steffanie combed through research old and new and came across phage therapy: the idea that the right virus, aka "the perfect predator," can kill even the most lethal bacteria. Phage treatment had fallen out of favour almost 100 years ago, after antibiotic use went mainstream. Now, with time running out, Steffanie appealed to phage researchers all over the world for help. She found allies at the FDA, researchers from Texas A&M, and a clandestine Navy biomedical center-and together they resurrected a forgotten cure.

A nail-biting medical mystery, The Perfect Predator is a story of love and survival against all odds, and the (re)discovery of a powerful new weapon in the global superbug crisis. (From Hachette Book Group)

From the book

I never dreamed I'd be outwitted by a wimpy bacterium. I'd tracked a killer virus across multiple continents to wage the war against AIDS, through the trenches and at the table with policymakers at a global level. Viruses were to be feared. Bacteria? Not so much. At least not this one. I'm an infectious disease epidemiologist, director of a global health institute at a major US university, and of all people, I should have been able to protect my husband from a bacterium I'd last seen in my undergrad days, when we'd handled it without concern in basic lab experiments. If someone had told me that one day this microbial mutant would have us on death watch and I'd soon be injecting my husband with a legion of killer viruses to try to save him, I would have thought they'd lost their marbles. And yet, here we are.

The holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and Valentine's Day — have passed in a blur. Tom is hardly recognizable beneath the web of IVs, monitor cables, drains, tubes and other medical paraphernalia. His once thick silver hair, which stylists swooned over, has fallen out in clumps, and the skin on his feet and hands is peeling off in layers. He has lost more than a 100 pounds from his six-foot-five-inch frame. We have not lost hope, and on this day, like every day, we are strategizing how to beat this thing. But at this moment I am doing it on my own. Tom is lapsing in and out of consciousness, an improvement over the coma, but still…

The tone of the clinical conversation among the specialists and other medical staff around Tom has changed in some subtle way. It's hard to nail down. His labs and vital signs fluctuate as they have for three months now, so it's not that. It's something between the lines, something they're not saying, that I'm unable to decipher. Since our lives went from bliss to hell in a handbasket, it's been all I could do to learn enough about anatomy and medicine just to keep up with their conversation. I'm a researcher, not a doctor, but even I know something about bedside manner. And theirs has shifted.

From The Perfect Predator by Steffanie Strathdee and Thomas Patterson with Teresa Barker ©2019. Published by Hachette Book Group.

Interviews with Steffanie Strathdee