Human Interest

Police Chief Asks Community To Help Pick Up Heroin Needles

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Patrick Pezzati searches yards in Turners Falls, Mass., for discarded heroin needles.

As the last of the snow melts in New England, an assortment of debris is emerging — including heroin syringes. It’s gotten so bad in one small town that the police chief asked civilians for help.

Aired on NPR’s All Things Considered, April 28, 2015. Listen here.

What Makes a Resilient Mind

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Published on NOVA Next (PBS online) 1/14/2015

By Karen D. Brown

Standing at a podium in a Philadelphia hotel, Amanda Lindhout—a poised, elegant woman in her early 30s—told a harrowing story.

She survived a violent childhood and adolescence in Canada with an alcoholic and abusive stepfather, relying on her own grit and imagination to get through. After high school, she worked as a cocktail waitress and pored wistfully over exotic photos in National Geographic magazines. She eventually tucked away enough money to travel and become a freelance foreign correspondent.

Then in 2008, she was kidnapped while reporting in Somalia and held captive for more than a year, subjected to torture, hunger, and rape.

“I had lost everything,” she told the rapt room. “I had lost even the things you thought couldn’t be taken away from you. My own name. The sky over my head. Laughter. Light. And I never knew if I could make it through the day. So I would break it down and ask myself, ‘Can I get through the next minute?’ ”

She was eventually released after family members scrounged their every resource to raise the ransom her captors demanded.

When something happens to you that extreme, you could begin to fray at the edges, descending into depression, perhaps substance abuse, or post-traumatic stress. Or you could emerge relatively intact, like Lindhout seems to have done, able to speak articulately in front of hundreds of academics and journalists at the 2013 conference of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, which had invited her as keynote speaker. The theme that year was “Resilience.”

“No matter how many times in captivity I suffered abuse, it never got easier, but to survive in there, I had to learn how to crawl out of this dark space in my own mind,” she said. “I began to nurture something inside myself, a tiny seed of compassion inside of me.”

Lindhout’s case is not scientifically unique. There are hundreds, thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of people around the world who have gone through their own version of hell—some of them resilient, some not. But in this room of psychologists and neuroscientists, Lindhout was a warm-blooded reminder why the work they do matters.

Resilience as a branch of trauma studies has grown rapidly in the last few decades, as no shortage of mass traumas, from genocides to war to mass shootings, have raised questions about the psychological fortitude of individuals and populations. That’s in addition to the quieter trauma—domestic abuse, illness, sexual violence—that happens outside the public’s view.


To read the full story on NOVA Next, click here.

Life After Stress: The Biology of Trauma and Resilience

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Listen Here 

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After September 11th, social scientists really began to focus on the psychological impact

Photo by Mike Carroll for Harvard University.

of trauma, and the power of resilience. But long before that horrible event, and certainly since, there have been brutal wars, natural disasters, mass shootings, and bombings — not to mention the chronic stress of poverty, illness, or domestic abuse.

An emerging field of science is looking at ways trauma of all sorts gets embedded in the body and brain, and who weathers it best. Stay with us for the half-hour documentary — “Life After Stress: The Biology of Trauma and Resilience.”

First broadcast on New England Public Radio, November 13, 2014. Edited by Sam Hudzik. Original Music by John Townsend. Funding contributed by the Falcon Fund and the Knight Fellowship in Science Journalism at MIT.

To download audio, right-click here

Full transcript available at

For companion print article I wrote for NOVA Next (PBS Online), “What Makes a Resilient Mind,” click here.


Lance and Nina: Recovery and Redemption Where You’d Least Expect It

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Lance Rice and Nina Rossi go through letters Lance sent from rehab. By Karen Brown.


Heroin abuse is on a steep rise throughout New England, including in small towns that haven’t seen serious drug use in decades. But what often gets lost in news about the epidemic is how hard some addicts are trying to get clean. Karen Brown of New England Public Radio has been following one young man as he seeks not only recovery — but redemption — with some unlikely help.



Listen here for (longer) version that aired on New England Public Radio, March 2014. 

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For the NPR version that ran on All Things Considered, April 19, 2014, visit the NPR site here


El Junque Tropical Forest – Bringing Puerto Rico (and Tranquility) to a Holyoke Middle School

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Listen Here 

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In Holyoke, Massachusetts, a middle school classroom doubles as a replica of a rainforest – the kind you’d find in Puerto Rico. Island expats have been coming to Holyoke for decades. And for the youngest newcomers, this classroom is the closest they can get their ancestral home. New England Public Radio’s Karen Brown reports.



[This story also aired on NPR's Latino USA, April 25, 2014. To listen, click  here]

When the writer becomes the patient …… Personal story on making medical decisions

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

[The Boston Globe, G-Cover Story, Health Section, January 20, 2014]

by Karen D. Brown

One afternoon last fall, I was pacing a high school parking lot in Wilbraham, straining to see my son running in his first cross-country meet, while absently listening to Muzak on my cellphone. My doctor had put me on hold as he looked for my pathology report on his fax machine.

Three weeks earlier, my annual mammogram had turned up some calcifications. Apparently, they can either be benign calcium deposits or signs of something worse. When I went in for a biopsy, the radiologist showed me the X-rays, and I could just make out a few tiny white dots scattered amid my veiny breast tissue. “We get a lot of false alarms,” a nurse assured me shortly before a thin needle was inserted into my left breast to take out the dubious cells and send them out for analysis.

I wasn’t actually very worried. I’d been overreacting to health scares for so long, I had gotten used to most news being better than I feared. Plus, I exercise regularly, eat well, and don’t smoke.

“Well, Karen . . . ” My doctor’s voice broke into the Muzak just as my son was running into view. “The report says ductal carcinoma in situ.”

I waited for the part where he added, “So everything’s fine. Don’t forget to get your thyroid levels checked and I’ll see you next year.”

But instead, he repeated what was starting to sound a lot like a real diagnosis. “It is cancer. But the good news is, we caught it early.”

Good news, apparently, is relative. As I pressed the phone closer to my ear, blocking out the cheering track parents, my doctor tried to end on a positive note: “It’s a good thing we didn’t follow those recent mammogram recommendations.”

[to continue reading in the Boston Globe online, click here]

[to read my reflections on writing this piece -- on the Association of Health Care Journalists blog-- click here]