Gesundheit! Clown doc Patch Adams visits Edgerton book fest

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, September 18, 2013

EDGERTON—For a community with a growing reputation for progressive health care—think Edgerton Hospital's bee colony, healing garden maze and community gardens—author/clown/social
activist/doctor Patch Adams would seem the perfect guest of honor in Edgerton.

Adams is known internationally for his decades-long, unorthodox approach to medical care that blends mainstream doctoring with laughter, joy, creativity and clowning. He is this year's keynote guest speaker at the Sterling North Book and Film Festival on Saturday, Sept 28.

Adams, 68, is the founder and director of the Gesundheit Institute, a West Virginia-based holistic medical community that has provided free health care since the 1970s. The Patch Adams health care model: Human healing comes through compassion, laughter and happiness.

Movie lovers will remember actor Robin Williams' portrayal of the quirky Adams in the semi-autobiographical film “Patch Adams.”    

“My one regret is that I didn't make a Hail Mary effort to get Robin Williams. He's just quirky enough that you never know—he might have actually come,” said Diane Everson, publisher of the Edgerton Reporter and a festival organizer.

The fest runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, at Edgerton High School, 200 Elm High Drive. 

Everson remembers seeing the real Adams speak in Boston in 2003. She said he talked about his medical group's involvement with children who had been severely burned.

Adams explained that the children's treatment involved mainstream procedures including skin grafts—but their recovery called for humor and play rather than strong painkillers.

“I was stunned. His talk, his message, was pretty life-changing,” Everson said.

Everson said the book festival's organizers got in touch with Adams through an Edgerton native who is a former employee at the institute. The committee has spent two years trying to land the doctor-clown as a speaker.

Adams, the author of “Gesundheit!,” a book detailing his quest for free health care worldwide and compassionate patient-doctor relationships, is known to speak at length at public events—sometimes for four or five hours. Sometimes, it involves clowning. 

His medical mission and message hits on the cornerstones of the nation's troubled health care system: ballooning costs, dehumanized patient care, malpractice law and third-party insurance system abuse, according to the Gesundheit Institute.

In Edgerton, he has asked for two hours to speak—twice as long as the usual speaker.

The festival features nine other writers, ranging from “Haunted Wisconsin” author Chad Lewis to Kathleen Kent, author of the best-seller “The Heretic's Daughter,” a novel about a family torn apart during the Salem witch trials.

Another festival guest, Christopher Mihm, will debut his new film, “The Giant Spider,” a campy, '50s-style monster movie that—you guessed it—is about a giant spider. 

Also at the festival are book signings and meet-and-greets by local authors—and the festival's Sterling North Award for children's book authors. This year, it will be presented to Lita Judge, who illustrated the wordless children's book “Red Sled.”

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