Indeed, all life is a matter of the heart. Perhaps because of this biological certainty, that life ends when the heart stops, humans regard the heart as much more than simply an organ. It is a symbol of love and a metaphor applied to everything from athletic achievement to courage to despair. And it’s always present, beating inside our chests, until that final moment when the rhythm ends.
Dr. Thomas Amidon, a cardiologist at Kalispell Regional Medical Center, teamed up with his brother Stephen Amidon, a critically acclaimed author living in Massachusetts, to write a book released last year called "The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart." It explores how people throughout human history, from poets to saints to scientists, have been captivated and inspired by the heart, "the single most important symbol of our humanity."
After receiving rave reviews throughout the year, The Wall Street Journal recently named "The Sublime Engine" one of the five best health and medicine books of 2011. In an interview earlier this month, Dr. Amidon said he was grateful for the Wall Street Journal honor, noting that the newspaper had also previously written a review of the book.
"We wanted to look at why the heart is imbued with all of this symbolism," Amidon said. "Why not the brain? Why not the skin? The heart is this symbol of love and devotion, when really it’s just an intricate pump and when we recognize that consciousness in the brain."
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"The Sublime Engine" is not a medical book. Rather, it draws upon history, religion, literature and popular culture, in addition to science, to weave together a series of narratives that make the book accessible to readers of all interests and backgrounds. The brothers each brought a specific brand of expertise to the project: a novelist and heart doctor working together in a collaborative manner that only brothers can achieve.
"It was really a case where the right hand and the left hand knew what they were doing," Dr. Amidon, who at 51 is a year younger than Stephen, said. "It’s easier when you’ve known someone for 50 years."
Amidon is part of a large migration of respected doctors to come from out of state to Kalispell in recent years. Jim Oliverson, vice president at KRMC, said during one 18-month stretch roughly 20 new doctors came aboard, including specialists who had earned their reputations in urban medical centers from the East Coast to the West Coast.
Before starting with KRMC less than two years ago, Amidon worked in San Francisco and the Seattle area. While giving a lecture in Kalispell, he took note of the Flathead Valley’s beauty and quality of life. He also took note of the cardiologist job opening at KRMC.
After determining that KRMC "seemed to be the most doctor-friendly hospital that I’ve ever encountered," Amidon and his wife moved to Montana. Oliverson is pleased to have such high-quality doctors choosing to move to Kalispell.
"Tom is just an incredible physician," Oliverson said. "We have such an array of talent here."
Amidon had previously contributed to medical publications but had never been part of a book like "The Sublime Engine." He called it a "fun project," one that was accomplished without the brothers ever being in the same room. Stephen worked from Massachusetts and Thomas worked from Kalispell.
Stephen Amidon has written essays and criticism for a number of magazines and newspapers in both the United States and Great Britain, according to his website. He has also published a book of short stories and six novels, including "Human Capital," which Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post named one of the five best novels of 2004.
"The Sublime Engine" was a new adventure for both Amidons, and the result is what Publisher’s Weekly calls a "rare book" that is "so entertaining that its ability to educate seems effortless." The book certainly picks a topic with broad appeal. As the introduction notes: "For as long as we have been self-aware, we have been in awe of the fact that there is something so vital, so alive, within our bodies: a relentlessly active core with a will of its own."
"Four thousand years of usage have lodged the heart at the core of our imaginations," the book’s introduction concludes. "It is not likely that it will be evicted anytime soon."