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The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir

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A memoir of one woman's effort to save her husband's life-and the discovery of a forgotten cure that has the potential to save millions more.

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 favor 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.

309 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2019

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About the author

Dr. Steffanie Strathdee is a Canadian-American infectious disease epidemiologist who received her doctoral training at the University of Toronto. She is Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences and Harold Simon Distinguished Professor of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where she co-directs the Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics. Steff is married to Thomas L. Patterson, Professor of Psychiatry at UC San Diego, where they lead an HIV prevention research program on the Mexico-US border. Together, they co-authored their memoir, The Perfect Predator, a medical thriller about Tom's life-threatening superbug infection which was cured with a hundred-year old forgotten cure-- phage therapy. In 2018, Steffanie was named by TIME magazine as one of 50 Most Influential People in Health Care for her work to bring phage therapy to North America.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 518 reviews
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,062 reviews693 followers
March 19, 2019
A compelling medical mystery turned thriller race against time and death—this memoir is even more than that. It's an emotional journey with the author as she tells of her frantic efforts to save her husband's life by finding the "perfect predator" capable of knocking out "the worst bacteria on the planet." She does so my mobilizing her circle of medical and scientist friends to search for bacteriophages capable of doing what all known antibiotic drugs had failed to do.

Her husband had been hospitalized for several months with an infection, and his medical condition had continued to deteriorate as he was put on life support, had experienced repeated bouts of septic shock, and was beginning to show signs of multiple organ failure. Up to fifteen different antibiotic drugs had been administered in various combinations, but any early signs of effectiveness had faded as the drug resistant acinetobacter baumannii had apparently continued to mutate into increases resistance to the drugs.

The author is a research epidemiologist and therefore had the knowledge and contacts to get the ball rolling. Phage therapy is not approved by the FDA, so the use of such unorthodox treatment had to receive permission under investigational new drug (IND) (a.k.a. compassionate use) provisions of federal law. A lot of potential red tape was passed through swiftly—having the staff at UCSD behind it helped.

The story begins innocently enough while the author and her husband were vacationing in Egypt. He got sick with what they at first assumed to be an old-world version of "Montezuma's Revenge." But things got worse so they were medevaced to Frankfurt, Germany where the infection was cultured and identified as "the worst bacteria on the planet." Then they were medevaced to UCSD hospital in California. The next four months were filled with a series of efforts to bring the infection and related complications under control.

I as a reader (a.k.a. audio listener) was emotionally pulled along with the author's story as she told of multiple ups and downs of her husband's medical condition. The book also contains multiple short interludes in her husband's first person voice describing some of the hallucinations he had while drifting in and out of consciousness. I finally breathed a sigh of relief as the first signs of recovery were described following initial phage therapy. But that relief was shattered as the author told of another set back due to various complications. I lost track of the number of emotional ups and downs encountered in this story. I was surprise by my own adrenaline spiked responses to the book's story because I already knew the final outcome—her husband survives.

Even after reaching the part of the book where the infection is finally defeated the reader is informed of the reality of a slow and drawn out recovery time. The total hospitalization time was nine months, and they anticipate the recovery time to be five times longer than that. Symptoms of Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Post-intensive care syndrome (PICS) from the long exposure to intensive care are also described.

The book's narrative also provides historical background to the developments of germ theory and early utilization of bacterial phages prior to the discovery of penicillin. We learn how the success of antibiotic drugs left phage therapy largely forgotten in the Western world, but it continued to be used in the Soviet block countries during the Cold War era. Any interest in phage therapy at one time was an indication that you were a Communist.

One of the really good things that has come out of this particular case is the fact that it has been thoroughly documented resulting in an "IV-phage therapy protocol available globally to help others." One of the details learned as a consequence of this case is that some phage and antibiotic drug pairs used together can symbiotically increase their mutual effectiveness which raises the possibility of a second life for antimicrobial resistant drugs. Findings such as these help to raise awareness of phage therapy's potential and increases the possibility for future research funding.

Increased antimicrobial resistances is sort of like global warming. We know it's coming, we know why it's coming, but we don't stop doing what's causing it. Bacterial infections that have been easily controlled during the second half of the twentieth century will in the future become once again deadly uncontrollable threats. Therefore, the story in this book provides a glimmer of hope for a method of enhanced treatment of infections in the coming brave new world of drug resistant bacteria.

If you are expecting the private pharmaceutical industry to develop future phage therapy, you'll probably be disappointed. There's no apparent way to make easy money with phages. They don't lend themselves to broad spectrum use. Nature developed them narrowly focused on a certain bacteria thus they have to be custom cultured for a single bacterial strain. But the good news is that phages can often mutate while on the job in response to mutations by the bacteria which is something antibiotics can't do.

Here's a link to a May/June 2018 article from Mother Jones about this case:

Here's a link to a TED talk by the author, Steffanie Strathdee:
If you can't take time to read the book, I recommend listening to the TED talk.
1 review2 followers
December 9, 2018
Having lived through part of this harrowing journey because the authors are my daughter and son in law, I found this book truly inspirational and a real tear jerker. Although I knew the whole story, I still couldn’t put it down!
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,297 reviews119 followers
March 7, 2019
The horrific account of Thomas Patterson contracting one of the most dangerous, antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the world while vacationing with his wife in Egypt has lessons for all of us. It all started with some small gallstones that caused his body to develop a pseudo cyst. And somehow—who knows how—he got infected with Acinetobacter baumannii. This is one nasty bacterium—resistant to EVERY single antibiotic available. Tom was flown first to Germany from Egypt and then to UC San Diego. [Key learning—Buy the medical insurance that includes medivac coverage when traveling abroad.]

Strathdee is an epidemiologist focused on infectious diseases. Her husband, Patterson, is an evolutionary sociobiologist. Both had worked previously on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. They had a lot of friends within the science community and knew the scientific protocols they would need to follow as they fought to keep Patterson alive until they could find something—anything—that would work to combat the bacteria. So—clearly they enjoyed a privileged situation in their search.

What Strathdee stumbled upon was the use of viral phages to attack the bacteria. This is not a new idea. It was first discovered in 1917, but then quickly disregarded with the advent of antibiotics. BUT—using viral phages is tricky business. First, one must find the viral phage that will work against the target bacteria. AND, if the bacteria is one that can transform and counter phage attacks quickly—like A. baumannii; then one needs to find several viral phages that can attack simultaneously. AND, it needs to be isolated, purified and approved by the FDA. This process utilized doctors, the FDA, numerous researchers, and even the US Navy. Patterson was extremely sick for months. He went into sepsis several times and was in a coma waiting for the viral phages to become ready. The good news is that they worked!

Now for the bad news, our overuse of antibiotics has led to ‘superbugs’ exhibiting AMR (Anti Microbial Resistance). There have been no new classes of antibiotics developed since the 80s, and there are strong indications that we may be headed toward a post-antibiotic era by 2050. THIS is likely to be more catastrophic to humankind than climate change.

Highly recommend this important book!
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,663 reviews441 followers
July 31, 2022
It was a race against time to save the life of Dr Thomas Patterson whose body was invaded by a superbug resistant to antibiotics. When he and his wife, Dr Steffanie Strathdee, were vacationing in Egypt, Tom was struck with pancreatitis and one of the most dangerous bacteria in the world. Medevac teams took him first to Germany, then later to the hospital at the University of California San Diego.

Steff was both a loving, concerned wife and a top scientist - an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor at UCSD. Tom was a psychology professor at UCSD. As her husband's condition deteriorated, Steff researched alternative medical therapies. She and the team of doctors collaborated with phage researchers who worked day and night to create a phage cocktail specific for Tom's infection. A bacteriophage is a "virus that will eat bacteria by injecting their DNA into them and turning them into phage manufacturing plants." The bacteria die and the phage virus multiplies. Phage therapy has been used in Poland, Russia, and Georgia, mainly by the military, but not in the United States. A history of phage research was also included in the book.

The book was a warning against overuse of antibiotics. Emergence of superbugs is a global emergency. For years antibiotics have been used to promote growth in livestock. Although this practice has now been banned in the United States, important antibiotics are still being used in some other countries as a growth enhancer in animals.

I'm glad that Tom Patterson's name was on the cover of the book as a co-author so I knew he lived through this frightening ordeal. Tom's resilience, family love, the dedication of the hospital staff, and the collaboration between world-class scientists, the FDA, and the doctors all contributed to his recovery. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and "The Perfect Predator" was as riveting as a thriller.
Profile Image for Steffanie Strathdee.
Author 1 book128 followers
March 2, 2019
As an author of this book, I won't leave a review, but am posting the review my Dad gave after he read the first draft, shortly before he died. Having gone through Tom's hospital ordeal gave me the courage to hold my Dad in my arms as he died. -Steff

"Bravo, Steff and Tom! I knew the whole story of course, since Mom and I were there to help you through it, at least some of the time. But I still couldn't put the book down and read it until the wee hours of the night. Readers will know that Tom lived since they'll see his name on the cover of the book, but this isn't so much a book about the 'what', it's a book about the 'how'. I thought I knew a thing or two about phages and superbugs, but I learned a lot from reading your book. I really loved how accessible you made it for the reader; you're not writing this as Drs. Strathdee and Patterson, but as Steff and Tom. Readers will see you as people, not just scientists, and in a world where there's suddenly so much opposition to science, this book presents real facts in the format of a medical thriller. It reminded me of The Hot Zone. I'm so proud of you!" -Al Keith
Profile Image for Johann (jobis89).
627 reviews4,255 followers
October 5, 2021
This was inspiring and emotional and tense and I thought it was fantastic. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Christopher.
215 reviews167 followers
February 2, 2019
When her husband Tom Patterson developed a stomach bug while in Egypt, epidemiologist Steffanie Strathdee wasn’t concerned. The pair had traveled the world and suffered far worse than vomiting. However, when Tom’s condition deteriorates further, he’s medavacked back to the United States. Soon, doctors pinpoint his sudden decline to an antibiotic-resistant bacteria— a superbug. As treatment options begin running low, Steffanie begins her own search for a next-to-impossible cure to save her husband.

At the core of The Perfect Predator is a thriller. Tom is suffering from an obviously debilitating problem— something that can kill him. The problem is stopping the killer. Yet, like all heart-stopping thrillers, there’s an infinite amount of obstacles standing in the detective’s, or health professional’s, way. That’s partially why what authors Strathdee and Patterson have done in writing this book is so invaluable. Superbugs represent a massive threat to global health, but it can be tricky boiling away the wonky science to something approachable.

Steffanie and Tom, through their personal experiences, humanize superbugs, prevention, and the complex process of experimental treatment. Most of the story stems from Steffanie’s perspective as she researches a cure for her husband. She’s determined, inventive, and a skilled researcher— the perfect combination to tackle such a harrowing task. Her frustration is palpable, and provides an insightful look at the treatment process. Hospitals can seem like places where a patient walks in and treatments work like magic, but Steffanie catalogs the difficult behind-the-scenes work that occurs in the worst of circumstances.

Yet, her writing goes deeper than the science. Steffanie’s drive is an intense love for her husband. As the story progresses, she explores her relationship more. Though she struggles through FDA regulations, countless journal articles, and tedious laboratory work, she also shines light onto Tom and the life they crafted together. Their bond is heartwarming and the center of this book.

It’s gripping, pulse-pounding, and yet the bulk of the action takes place in laboratories and a single hospital room. Tom is confined to a coma through much of his treatment, and he recounts this in several interludes. He explains the hallucinations he experienced and the thoughts he focused on during his months in the ICU. These are some of the most effective moments in the book, as they play against the chaos happening around his hospital bed.

Within all of this is both a warning and a call to action. Superbugs are growing in prominence. However, as Steffanie and the amazing assembly of doctors, nurses, researchers, and technicians who supported her husband’s case discovered, there are options. Phage therapy, a process of using specific viruses to attack bacterial infections, proved effective in this case, as well as other. However, it requires broader research and implementation. Steffanie and Tom have done tremendous work in using their personal story as a framework for understanding a necessary treatment.

The Perfect Predator does what all great nonfiction books should do. While presenting the truth, it transcends genres— scientific exploration, mystery, thriller, and even romance. And it does it all by exploring an extraordinarily human story.

Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.
December 17, 2018
This book is, forgive me, a real “phage-turner!” Seriously, it is a compelling read—a gripping, suspenseful medical mystery tour that turns the tide on a therapy—bacteriophage therapy—long dismissed or ignored by the medical establishment. The authors have done a wonderful job weaving together a very personal and scientific story conveyed in the voices of the two protagonists – Dr. Strathdee, the epidemiologist-wife, and Dr. Patterson, the psychologist-husband-patient. (Full disclosure – both authors are colleagues and friends of mine.) The persistent scientific sleuthing of Dr. Strathdee as her husband lay near death in the hospital from systemic infection with one of the worst multi-drug resistant bacteria is punctuated by the remembered hallucinations of Dr. Patterson—a melding of his awareness of what was going on around him with profound philosophical musings. Together, these voices tell a truly remarkable story of love, privilege, resourcefulness, determination, risk-taking, faith, and luck.

The lessons from The Perfect Predator are many and related. First, it definitely “takes a village”—in this case, family members, clinicians, researchers, government officials, and even a psychic—but even more so, it “takes a catalyst” to engage all these villagers. That was Dr. Strathdee, who tapped into her own scientific training and professional network, which was vast from her and Dr. Patterson’s global work in HIV/AIDS, to leave no stone unturned—even those that were a bit risky—to save her husband’s life.

Second, it also takes technology. Not only medical technology that allowed the phages to be isolated, sanitized, injected, and monitored, but also the cell phones that allowed Dr. Strathdee to communicate with everyone she needed to around the world at any time of day or night, and the Internet, which allowed her to research the medical literature. Whatever qualms we have about the overreach of such technologies, this book makes clear their value.

Third, as the authors acknowledge, much of what they were able to do was a result of being in a relatively privileged position – well-connected university professors of means. Their goal is to see phage therapy scaled up sufficiently to make it accessible to people and places with much more constrained resources.

Why they care about this is the fourth lesson: Dr. Patterson’s case must be put, as the authors do, in the context of the global growth of superbugs—antibiotic resistant bacteria—which already poses one of the greatest threats to global health. Combatting this threat requires being open to new—or not so new, but marginalized—approaches to prevention and treatment, and being committed to supporting the science that will lead to their discovery and implementation.

It may seem hyperbolic, but it is true, to say that the authors have done the world a great service by using their very personal and emotional story—beautifully written—to save lives around the world.
Profile Image for Zulfiya.
591 reviews97 followers
June 6, 2019
On a personal level, it is one of the most conflicted reviews I am posting. Let me first elaborate the positive aspects of my reading experience.
1. The book flows, and it flows well, and all the parts in it are in the right places, and nothing is excessive in the book, and chapters do not drag.
2. The book is bringing awareness to antibiotic resistant bacteria strains, and it serves its educational purpose.
3. The writing per se ( sentences, paragraphs, transitions - aka the building blocks of composition) was good,too. It was not spectacular, and it is hard to achieve deep emotional engagement with non-fiction, but it was very decent and relatable.
4. it was based on personal experience, and it always takes some guts to publish a book with the personal involvement, including some very intimate moments about bodily functions.

Now, my peeves, and many of them are subjective peeves driven by my Russian judgmental nature and my personal freelancing experience as an interpreter/translator working in the field of public health, HIV, ID, and epidemiology. It is also important to keep in mind that my degree is in ESL, linguistics, and world lit.

1. I was only exposed to this field as an interpreter, but some of moments of ignorance shocked me. Again, it is all my vitriolic Russian nature is rearing its ugly head. In Russia, once can not be an epidemiologist without taking extensive courses of infectious diseases, and vice versa, one can not be an infectious disease specialist and being totally clueless about public health and ways diseases spread. One can say that global public health is mostly WHO protocols, predictions and formulas, and it is true, but these formulas without any knowledge how diseases spread and their etiology are useless, so I simply found this lack of knowledge unbelievable.

2. Again, due to my Russian background, I heard about phages and their usages in microbiology and public health. One might attribute my knowledge to the factors Ms. Strathdee mentioned in her book, but I did hear about the biophage methods in ..... high school. High school!!!! Not college - high school! I can say many negative things about the Soviets, but formal and natural sciences were strictly science driven, rigorous, and demanding parts of curriculum.

3. Because the book is based on true events, I also think I have the right to touch upon memoir-like parts of the book. The author was absolutely right to describe the abject medical conditions in Egypt, but in my personal experience, I did visit some rural health departments in the USA, and they are as shoddy and poorly equipped as the one in Luxor. Oh, did I hear a little bit of judgment from the author? I did, and I would be opinionated, too, but it is nice to remember that one can find similarly equipped medical offices in the USA.

4. Please, do not let me start on religion and prayers that were malapropos. First, if it is a divine providence for her husband to be saved, why would phage biotechnology be used only by the Soviets, the self-proclaimed atheists of the past? Secondly, the role of prayers is highly hyperbolic. I do understand that faith is a crutch that one needs and it is an evolutionary mechanism to cope with enormous pressure, but why wouldn't a scientist put common sense first? This is way beyond my comprehension. On the other hand, I might succumb to the same need of succor and support at the time of trial. Who knows?

5. I am sure I will get a lot of hate comments here, but this book had this weird California aftertaste - one that combines science, gaps in required knowledge, prayers, New Age life coaches, etc.

If I based my review on my peeves, I would possibly give it two stars, but because it might educate public that needs this knowledge, the book gets a three-star review.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Debbie.
324 reviews27 followers
January 10, 2020
4.5 stars

An absolutely fascinating and completely compelling read, The Perfect Predator is not one to miss. With a captivating and engaging writing style, the authors kept the pages turning as they described Patterson’s harrowing struggle to survive a superbug, and Strathdee’s dedicated attempts to find the cure.

I greatly appreciated the inclusion of the science behind not only the treatments that were used throughout the book, but also related medical terms, discoveries and histories that help to flesh out the scientific and emotional backstory. Though there were a few times where the information got repetitive because Strathdee would reiterate the science behind something not long after she initially explained it, overall it was very well-presented and explained. The repetition helped reinforce the complex science behind phage therapy and wasn’t frequent or obvious enough to be distracting or negatively impact my enjoyment of the book.
12 reviews
April 7, 2019
Riveting! Page turner! Awsome! Ok, so I’m a little biased, since I know and admire Steffanie Strathdee, one of the authors. I followed this story as it unfolded in (almost) real time via social media and had the honor of being asked to read this amazing book in advance of its publication. Despite having observed this ongoing, life-changing, roller coaster experience as it was happening, the book reeled me in and I could not stop reading from the first paragraph. My heart pounded in my chest in some places and tears poured from my eyes in others. One of the greatest lessons of this story is that love may be something we feel, but it is best expressed in action. Oh, and that phages may end up being the answer to antibiotic resistance.

In the telling of her story, Dr. Strathdee beautifully melds two perspectives she brought to this experience; she is an overwhelmed human being and life partner, and she is a research scientist. If this story focused only on the science, it would lose the average reader because so many of us would assume it was beyond our comprehension. However, the descriptions of the heroic people, the roles they played, and their personalities, along with the author’s own self-examination along the way and her commitment to save her husband make this a truly accessible saga for every reader. I don’t see how anyone could help but be moved, thoroughly engrossed, and carried effortlessly along on the amazing journey detailed in The Perfect Predator.
Profile Image for Alex Givant.
272 reviews34 followers
November 27, 2019
Everybody in reviews talking about science side of that book. When I read through it one word constantly came to me - "love". It's Stefannie's love to Tom that make this miracle happens, make her going on and on and on without surrender to save her husband from grips of deadly antibiotic-resistance bug. Talking about scientific side of the book it's not the first time I've heard about phage therapy, but this one explains it in so many great details that you basically can see phage attacking the bug. Another good book she mentioned is The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World - well written and joy to read.
Profile Image for J.S..
Author 1 book51 followers
May 3, 2019
“... the dystopian future of the post-antibiotic age.”

While vacationing in Egypt, Tom Patterson came down with a very nasty bug. Getting sick on vacation was nothing new to Tom, however, as he often traveled, ate, and lived a bit on the wild side. But when what they thought was food poisoning grew increasingly worse, his wife Steffanie Strathdee took him to a clinic in Luxor. Soon, the humble clinic could do nothing for Tom and he was medivac’d to a state-of-the-art hospital in Germany, where it was determined that he had an infection of Acinetobacter baumannii. Ordinarily a relatively harmless bacteria that resides in our guts, A. baumannii has become a “superbug” - an antibiotic resistant bacteria - and one of the “worst bacteria on the planet.”

This is an interesting story about how Strathdee, a global health specialist and epidemiologist, was able to find a controversial and fairly obscure treatment for her husband using bacteriophages, or “phages” for short. Phages are tiny viruses that prey naturally upon bacteria. And while the story of Tom’s illness, which left him in a coma for two months, is fairly compelling in its own right, I felt this alternative treatment was the real story in light of our overuse of antibiotics and their growing resistance.

Yet as interesting as the story is, I had a hard time getting into it - not really connecting until I was more than 100 pages in. Still, the story is well-told and you get a decent feeling for what it was like, the ups and downs and the worry and feelings of helplessness. I’m not as enthusiastic about it as most other readers, but I think it’s an important direction for the future as more and more bacteria stop responding to the drugs we currently rely upon. 3.5 stars.
January 1, 2019
Completely compelling. As a bacteriophage (phage) researcher, I was delighted to receive an advanced copy of this gripping tale of the therapeutic application of phages for treating Tom Patterson. The science bits are simple and nicely explained, and won't prevent you from turning page after page. The collaborative nature of the scientists and doctors involved is inspiring, all working to try and save one person's life whom they don't know. They rolled the dice in a high stakes game and won. Tom Patterson's case illustrates the challenges presented with antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens (bad bugs), and brings it home at a personal level. But hope is not lost, and this well-told tale restores our faith in a vigorous and creative scientific community as a reservoir of new solutions to major health challenges.
Profile Image for Maya Sophia.
255 reviews12 followers
August 8, 2020
What an utterly fascinating and gripping book. This is about an epidemiologist whose husband, also a scientist, contracted an antibiotic resistant bacteria while they were traveling in Egypt and the extraordinary lengths that she went to to save his life using a rarely used technique in Western medicine called phage therapy. There are times when this broke my heart and made me tear up because I cannot possibly imagine how difficult this was for the both of them, to be so sick and so close to death so far from home. Strathdee covers a lot of topics from the advent of antibiotics, the factors that led to the overprescription of antibiotics, and the geopolitical reasons why phage therapy hasn't been researched in the West. Everything about it, from the medical to the historical was fascinating and it was held up beautifully by their own personal story. There were so many times that I was just in awe at how brilliant humans can be, and while there is a decent argument to be made that we wouldn't have an imminent need for phage therapy without the overuse of antibiotics, I remain amazed at the science behind phage therapy.
Profile Image for Geraldine (geraldinereads).
459 reviews106 followers
December 8, 2019
4.5 stars! This book is completely underrated and more people should read it! I read this a little slower so I could soak in all the information and it was so fascinating. I loved sharing everything I've been learning with my husband and now he wants to read it! If you love nonfiction/memoirs or science, you'll love this one!
Profile Image for Carrie Kellenberger.
Author 1 book99 followers
February 7, 2020
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Science and Technology 2019

I guess I will NOT be entering the Red Pyramid in Egypt after reading this frightening and unbelievable tale about a Canadian epidemiologist named Steffanie Strathdee and her husband Tom Patterson.

Dr. Steffanie Strathdee is an infectious disease epidemiologist and Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences and Harold Simon Professor of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where she co-directs the new Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics. Strathdee has spent most of her career on HIV prevention research in marginalized populations in countries around the world, focusing on injection drug users and sex workers.

She is married to Dr. Thomas L. Patterson, Professor of Psychiatry at UC San Diego. They've led HIV prevention research programs along the Mexico-US borders and have conducted many research studies together and separately.

The couple were vacationing in Egypt in late 2015 when her husband comes down with a stomach bug. At first, they think Tom has food poisoning, but soon Steffanie realizes there is something far more sinister at play.

Tom had contracted one of the most dangerous, antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the world known officially as Acinetobacter baumannii. Nicknamed the Iraqibacter, this simple bacterium is a super germ that plagued wounded soldiers who served in Iraq. The Infectious Diseases Society of America has listed Acinetobacter baumannii as one of the world's six most dangerous, top-priority, drug-resistant microbes.

Tom was fighting one of the most dangerous, antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the world. Tom's situation quickly turned critical and he was raced to Germany and then home to California, where he fought for months to beat this deadly bug. All seems lost until Strathdee comes across a hundred-year-old forgotten cure - phage therapy. This involved injecting a bacteria-eating virus into Tom to see if it would kill off the colony of bacteria that was leading to full organ failure.

This book provides a terrific background to history and the development of germ theory as well as early use of bacteriophages before the discovery of penicillin. I was shocked to learn that phage therapy is largely ignored in Western countries, but has been continued to be studied and used for major infections in the Soviet bloc countries, including a leading center in Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia in Eastern Europe.

Strathdee's commitment to her husband and her descriptions of being a caretaker really hit home for me. To have someone devote themselves entirely to your well-being is something that I unfortunately know something about. Her story and comments about Tom's condition really resonated with me. I am not surprised by the awards she has won or that her commitment to her husband and its results - an IV-phage therapy protocol that can be used globally to help other people with drug-resistant infections - will land her in the history books.

Towards the end of this book, Dr. Patterson and Dr. Strathdee dove into medical PTSD a bit and how Tom was traumatized by spending so much time being dangerously sick in the hospital. I've started to see medical PTSD mentioned more for people who have spent time in the hospital or been through ongoing medical traumas. It's a topic that really interests me. I often wonder how Dr. Patterson is recovering and whether or not they'll write about medical PTSD and how it affects patients since it is a topic that gets such little coverage. Either way, I hope he is doing ok and getting stronger every day.

The biggest thing on the horizon for humanity, aside from global warning, is increased antimicrobial resistance. If global warming doesn't get us soon, the bugs will. I can't stress the importance of global health centers working together to come up with more options for these deadly bugs. Strathdee has offered us hope with her story of survival and dedication to finding a cure for her husband.
Profile Image for Carla (Carla's Book Bits).
499 reviews128 followers
March 2, 2019
This is the nitty gritty: I haven't been this stressed out reading a book in such a long time.

Following the true-life experience of Steffanie Strathdee when she and her husband Tom Patterson go on a vacation to Egypt and Tom contracts a deadly superbug, The Perfect Predator is a page-turner from start to finish. From then on, Tom fights a harrowing fight first in a small clinic in Egypt, then in a much larger hospital in Germany, and onward when he's shipped off to the one of the most competent hospitals in the States. He needles between life and death for months, and we watch Steffanie as she and Tom's doctors struggle to find out what's going on with Tom. On the cover here is a virus: in Steffanie's most desperate moment, she decides that maybe the only cure for what's brutally killing Tom could be a cocktail full of viruses.

Wow, guys. This book is every bit as tense and thrilling as any fictional thriller that could've been written about the subject. It's not the most fast-paced, admittedly. Strathdee takes a lot of detours to explain in "normal people" terms what's going on with Tom medically. But it never felt info-dumpy- in fact, it was all so interesting!

As the sickness unfolds, it seems that everything that could go wrong, does go wrong. And though it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the outcome, it didn't stop the story from being gripping and tense. It does dip slightly in the middle part, but the story always picks back up again. I haven't read many medical thrillers, but this genre is definitely going to be more of an interest for me now. And this book, one of my favorite nonfictions I've read this year so far!

(Thank you, NetGalley, for letting me read an early copy in exchange for review.)
Profile Image for Camelia Rose.
634 reviews84 followers
September 6, 2019
The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug is a medical memoir. In the first half of the book, the author Steffanie Strathdee tells how her husband Tom Patterson became sick in a trip to Egypt in 2015, diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, later infected with Acinetobacter baumannii that was resistant to every known antibiotic to scientists. A few months later he was in coma, facing multi-organ failure and dying. The second half of book describes the battle to find the "perfect predator" to kill the bacteria and save the patient.

In short, the perfect predator for the multi-drugs resistance bacteria is bacteriophages, i.e. viruses that feed on the bacteria. It's fascinating to read about the history of bacteriophage therapy. The therapy was discovered in 1915 (before Penicillin), but largely forgotten by the Western world after WII. It was not only because antibiotics were a much better weapon to fight bacteria infections (easier to manufacture, one type of antibiotic kills many types of bacteria), but also for political reasons. For a very long time bacteriophage therapy was only available in Russian and Eastern European countries such as Georgia. The tide is starting to change as multi-drugs resistance bacteria (known as super-bugs) killing more and more people while no new category of antibiotics has been discovered since 1980s. Tom Patterson is the patient zero of the new wave bacteriophage therapy in United States.

Today's bacteriophage therapy, even in its experimental stage and a long way from FDA approval, has moved way beyond what its inventor could possibly imagine. It's a high-tech, personalized medicine, in some cases even including gene editing.

It was a fungus that gave us penicillin. Now it's time for recruiting viruses. The Darwinian dance is beautiful and serendipitous.

Both Stefanie Strathdee and Tom Patterson became bacteriophage therapy advocate afterwards. Today Steffanie Strathdee co-directs The Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
Profile Image for Mary.
811 reviews15 followers
June 4, 2019
Two scientists, husband and wife, on a trip to the pyramids of Egypt when the husband falls seriously ill. The Perfect Predator reads like a Robin Cook or Michael Crichton novel.

I like reading books about science. Even more since my great niece was born with Cystic Fibrosis because I want to learn as much as possible about this awful disease. The Perfect Predator is not a Cystic Fibrosis story rather it is the true story of what happens when an individual becomes infected with a superbug that is multi antibiotic resistant.

Catching a superbug can happen to anyone and many of these bugs have become resistant to all antibiotics and combinations of antibiotics because for years antibiotics were prescribed by doctors frequently and were present in the meat we ate.

The husband in the book had one of these superbugs, and the book is the tale of his wife and a team of physicians and researchers who turned to an almost forgotten method - phage therapy to try to save him.

Phage therapy is a breakthrough treatment for individuals with Cystic Fibrosis who often contract superbug lung infections that have stopped responding to antibiotics or combinations of antibiotics. While phage therapy can’t cure Cystic Fibrosis, it maybe able to halt the superbug lung infections that kill some of those with CF.

Well written for a target audience of nonscientists. You will not be disappointed or bored reading this book.
Profile Image for Shelbs.
39 reviews4 followers
October 15, 2019
Okay, this book was really good when it stuck to the medicine and their journey beating this superbug.

What turned me off were the constant weird New Age-y references and the continued story of Tom’s “Cherokee grandfather”. These family narratives of an ancestor who is said to be Native American are extremely harmful and the way they included it in this book perpetuated stereotypes about Natives. The descriptions of “shamanic drums” almost made me quit the book. Obviously this book was written from a position of privilege.
Profile Image for Booksingarden.
235 reviews
April 30, 2020
Fantastic book by a scientist, epidemiologist, on her efforts to find a cure for her husband who had his entire body colonized by superbugs and been in a coma for months. With immediate multiple organ failure imminent, she investigated phage/bacteriophage therapy. She working in conjunction with others eventually managed to get enough phage varieties (wrong word) to successfully knock out the primary villain (Acinetobacter baumannii).
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Fatima M. Nabil.
90 reviews49 followers
June 19, 2020
"A post-antibiotic era. That’s how some of the world’s top health officials, including former CDC director Tom Frieden, describe the global threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). By 2050, one person could die from a superbug infection every three seconds, making AMR a more immediate threat to humankind than climate change."
Profile Image for Annie.
899 reviews306 followers
November 18, 2020
A really excellent marriage of the personal and the scientific. Few people suffering the potential loss of a loved one from a deadly disease also have a PhD in such deadly diseases. Few people actually understand, on a biological level, what is happening to their loved one, or how futile medicine may be.

The author's husband (also a doctor) contracted a drug-resistent bacteria, acinetobacter baumannii, while they were travelling abroad for work and he came down with pancreatitis. He then had to go to an Egyptian clinic where it seems he contracted the resistent bacteria, which no drugs will treat. He's hospitalized (and sometimes comatose) for about a year. Meanwhile, his wife, the author, is working frantically to find a therapy (eventually landing on phage therapy, a revolutionary method that would then cure her husband).

The entire time I was reading this book, I was irresistably reminded of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. In that book, too, the author is processing her husband's illness (and then death). Both books describe in personal detail the ho-hum facts of life when a loved one is ill or dead, the inanities of life that seem like a slap in the face because you have to deal with them anyway despite your grief or fear or stress. Things like, awkward but well-meaning platitudes from friends and family and coworkers, pointlessly cruel moments from total strangers, finances, medical bills, work.

The main differences being, of course, that Strathdee is a scientific writer to Didion's poetic. And, well, the happy ending. But both incredible authors with mind-blowingly impossible journeys and immensely read-worthy books.
Profile Image for Mehtap exotiquetv.
355 reviews239 followers
March 1, 2021
Wenn man Superkiller sagt, denken die meisten an Krebs aber die wenigsten an ein Bakterium.
Das gefährlichste Bakterium dieser Welt nennt sich Acinetobacter baumannii. Ein antiobiotika-resistenzer "Superbug", die für einige septische Schocks bedingten Todesfälle verantwortlich sind.

In dieser autobiografischen Ausarbeitung, erzählt Steffanie von genau dieser Infektion, das ihr Ehemann Tom im gemeinsamen Urlaub in Ägypten eingefangen hat. Der gemeinsame Urlaub endete in Luxor in der Notaufnahme, als man eine befallene pseudo-Zyste entdeckte. Das Wettrennen gegen den Tod war eröffnet. Die Behandlungen nahmen in Frankfurt und in Toronto ihren Lauf. Als die Ärzte das Bakterium feststellen, schlagen alle Alarmglocken auf, denn ALLE Antiobiotika schlagen fehl. Die Zyste zu entfernen ohne einen septischen Schock zu riskieren scheint unmöglich. Ist es auch weil Tom etliche bekommt.

Als alle Therapiemaßnahmen misslingen und Tom im Koma liegt, macht sich Steffanie auf die Suche nach einer alternativen Therapiemöglichkeit und entdeckt Bakteriophagen - also Viren, die diesen Superkiller attackieren. Das Problem: Bislang gab es nur in vitro (im Reagenzglas) Studien. Steffanie gibt nicht auf und schafft es, dass Tom ein in vivo Studienteilnehmer wird. Wohlwissend, dass die Human-Therapie jederzeit seinen Tod bedeuten kann. Und hier beginnt das Wissenschaftswunder.
Profile Image for Jan.
482 reviews11 followers
April 12, 2019
This very engaging story will probably be a historical record of the day treatment in the U.S. of antibiotic resistant bacteria turned an important corner. At least we can hope it will be the day for that. This is the second time I have been surprised to come to understand how scientific research and thought paths can be altered--ruinously--by racial or geo-social political prejudices. The Germans understood the relationship of fat and carbohydrates to weight gain, but because the Germans were our enemies in two world wars, the U.S. turned its back on all of that research. And then here again: the Soviets were diving deeper into phage research and so the U.S. turned its back on all of that--maybe not quite that obviously or simplistically in either case, but definitely the prejudices had an impact. It might not be as great an impact if the giant funding mechanism for scientific research in the U.S. was not our government.

Anyway, I enjoyed this book very much, appreciate that my friend Donna recommended to me, and appreciate also that she understood when I told her the link to travel that complicated the author's husband's health crisis makes this a book I cannot let my husband read--unless I want to never travel again!
Profile Image for Karen.
101 reviews8 followers
December 12, 2018
The Perfect Predator is an unforgettable, eye-opening book. Sometimes I get really excited about a book and I talk to everyone I know about it. This is one of those books. I already have plans to purchase copies for friends. Stef and Tom travelled to Egypt where Tom acquired a multi-drug resistant bacterium (Acinetobacter). Despite multiple therapies, Tom is barely hanging on to life. Stef seeks out non-traditional therapies and proposes phage, viruses that infect bacteria. Approximately 100 years ago, phage were researched for human use. However, when Penicillin was introduced, phage therapy fell out of vogue. Tom’s treatment was one of the first major successful treatments with phage in the US. Thank you to NetGalley and Hachette Books for the advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for hallie.
36 reviews
December 3, 2022
This read like an extended cut of an episode of This Podcast Will Kill You. Captivated me from start to finish. As just a baby scientist, I am in awe of the accomplishments and bravery of every doctor, researcher, healthcare professional, student, and patient in this story. These are the stories that remind me why I want to pursue this field, and why I have so much hope in the future of medicine.
Profile Image for Joan.
165 reviews2 followers
March 9, 2023
I was drawn into this story, and yes, the microbiology as well, and didn’t want to stop reading until the end.
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