The Peer Patient: Mara Howard-William’s Path from Scoliosis Patient to Global Health Expert


Name: Mara Howard-Williams

Location: UNC, Chapel Hill.

Specialty: Former scoliosis patient and Graduate Research Assistant at America’s Health Rankings

I wish there were people my age I could have talked to.”-Mara Howard-Williams

Today we’re happy to welcome Mara Howard Williams to the show. Mara has traveled extensively throughout the US, and around the world supporting critical medical mission work. She currently works as a Graduate Research Assistant at America’s Health Rankings while also pursing her masters in the School of Global Public Health at UNC, Chapel Hill.

Mara is a special guest for us because she’s also one of Keith’s former patients. Diagnosed in her early teens with advanced scoliosis, Mara underwent corrective deformity surgery (by Keith) when she was just fifteen years old. Following her recovery, Mara was asked to offer advice and help to several other young patients facing similar paths. Mara was happy to help, wishing she had had someone (her age) to talk with before her surgery. It didn’t take long for Mara to recognize that more than just a few kids needed help. She took the initiative and started an incredibly successful support network called BalkTalk. This was a place where kids could talk with, and ask questions of, peers just like themselves.

We’re going to learn more about Mara’s efforts and what it was like to be a young patient facing major surgery. We’ll also explore Mara’s medical mission work abroad. We covered the cultural dynamics of patient treatment, what medical NGO’s do well (and what they do not), how you can get involved, and the mistakes and legal oversights many physicians make when going on medical missions abroad. This was a fascinating episode we hope you enjoy listening to Mara as much as we did.

Links and more:

About Mara:

One thought on “The Peer Patient: Mara Howard-William’s Path from Scoliosis Patient to Global Health Expert

  1. Enjoyed this podcast presenting Mara Howard-Williams hosted by Keith Menkin and Colin Miller. What I found remarkable and impressive about Mara was how she was able to share
    the shocking diagnosis of her scoliosis at the young age of 13 y/o and the things she was able to initiate afterward well into her college years, that have helped so many faced with similar situations.

    She experienced a huge void, when she realized after her diagnosis that she did not have a support group of peers to go to. So what did she do? – she with the support of her surgeon, initiated the Balk Talk support network, to help young teens adapt to similar situations, by
    being with their peers.

    Not only has she worked in the US, but has taken this globally with Humanitarian Aid work.
    She understands the importance of working with the community leaders of a particular culture, to help communicate her thoughts, recommendations or to understand what is most important to them.

    Also understands the value of 3rd party endorsements, such as government funded organizations and the UN.

    Couldn’t help but think of others I know who were faced unexpectedly with shocking diagnoses such as: Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts, or former co-host Joan London and the late NCSU basketball coach Jim Valvano. They could have chosen the pathway to quietly suffer in silence. But they came forward, as Mara has done, in an effort to
    help countless people faced with similar circumstances.

    I have learned so much from Mara and encourage others to listen to this podcast too. I greatly admire her courage, ambition and willingness to help so many here and in other countries around the world!


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