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How an AIDS patient encouraged a physician to take a chance on his own dream

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Time now for "My Unsung Hero," our series from the team at Hidden Brain, sharing stories about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. Today's story comes from physician and novelist Abraham Verghese. In 1985, Verghese was living and working in Johnson City, Tenn. He was a specialist in infectious diseases, and he had developed a reputation for treating patients living with AIDS. He grew close with many of his patients, including a man named Frank.

ABRAHAM VERGHESE: Well, he was remarkably, I thought, brave about what he knew he was facing. He understood the inevitability of what was coming. And rather than sinking into despair, he, you know, was an organizer, and he cared for his partner. And he, you know, was involved with civic events to the best that he could be. And I remember him saying that, you know, in my short life, I've done so many things, been so many places and, you know, met so many fascinating people. And there's very few places he hadn't been. And he said, I've lived a full life, and I'm really glad that I did. I feel sorry for the people who die who - at whatever age, who haven't had the chance to broaden their vision, follow their dreams the way I had. And I just remember the words sort of piercing me, giving me goosebumps, this recognition that, you know, there's only one life.

KELLY: Frank's words inspired Verghese to take a chance on his own dream of becoming a novelist.

VERGHESE: I applied to the Iowa Writers Workshop, and they accepted me. And so I was admitted, and I cashed in my 401(k) plan, gave up my tenured position, took my wife and young children on New Year's Day, 1990, to Iowa City. And I wouldn't have done it but for Frank's encouragement. I give Frank so much credit for starting me on this path.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KELLY: That was physician and novelist Abraham Verghese. His latest book is called "The Covenant Of Water." You can hear more stories like this on the "My Unsung Hero" podcast. And to share the story of your unsung hero, visit myunsunghero.org for instructions on how to record a voice memo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.