HEALTH IN GENERAL: Why not ‘The Dresser’ when the Times is looking for the next Bob Hepburn?

After thoroughly enjoying his title role in The Dresser, Bob Hepburn returns to the NYT Op-Ed pages to find new territory that he’s surprisingly comfortable in: news. It all started when he received an…

HEALTH IN GENERAL: Why not ‘The Dresser’ when the Times is looking for the next Bob Hepburn?

After thoroughly enjoying his title role in The Dresser, Bob Hepburn returns to the NYT Op-Ed pages to find new territory that he’s surprisingly comfortable in: news.

It all started when he received an e-mail alerting him to a study of how vaccination rates might correlate with mental health issues. As he tells it, he was immediately drawn to the research because he had a few family members who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and Asperger’s syndrome.

“I had a dad who drank a lot, and in my house we had this terrible talk about him,” Hepburn writes. “He drank and he had borderline personality disorder, which is a very dangerous combination in my house.”

He also remembers that during that period he experienced gender dysphoria, “anxiety, and depression” because he didn’t identify as male. A friend’s determination that he was not transgender turned out to be correct, and after changing schools, he discovered he was gay.

When he read the numbers in the study — that the rate of anti-vaccination in Canada was 14 times higher than the rate in Finland, a country with similar demographics and immunization rates, he was struck by their similarity to his own family history.

“I was totally curious,” he says. “I started researching, and I saw an e-mail from a reporter at The Globe and Mail and a photo of me, saying I was one of their people of interest. I was not prepared. I was completely swamped.”

That prompted him to reach out to the reporter and talk about why he was so interested in the study, his feelings about vaccine rates and anti-vaxxers, his academic background in immunology and that he is a resident at The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. It also prompted the reporter to share some of his questions and hopes for the paper’s upcoming coverage. The dialogue also felt to Hepburn — in retrospect — sort of consensual.

In particular, the journalist zeroed in on what Hepburn saw as the puzzle of vaccination rates in Quebec, the only province where vaccination rates are not low. He asked him what he thought could be done to “help those people see the potential value in getting vaccinated” — including to parents who felt they “didn’t have a good enough medical reason” to vaccinate their children.

When the reporter reached out again, an article was born.

So did writing write to health editor Laurie Freeman, too. She called him and offered him a piece, and Hepburn signed off from the page with a comforting note: “I am grateful for you getting the ball rolling.”

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