July 15, 2010

Giving kids with heart defects a better life

One of Joey Barnett’s earliest memories is sitting on his grandfather’s lap as he read aloud from his grandchildren’s textbooks and science magazines, such as National Geographic.

“Grandpa Barnett would say, ‘Joey, this is the sun. The sun is a star. This is a planet. Planets go around the sun. This is a moon. Moons go around planets,'” says Barnett, professor of pharmacology, medicine, pediatrics, and microbiology and immunology at Vanderbilt. “I realize now that he was probably teaching himself as much as he was teaching me.”

Grandpa Barnett was one of 13 children who, at the age of 10, traveled by steamboat from his Kentucky home on the Green River to live with an aunt in Evansville, Ind.

“He didn’t have even an elementary school education, but he had such a thirst for knowledge,” Barnett says “He was fascinated with learning. He later took college courses, became a public speaker and got involved in the Rotary Club and other professional organizations. He’s the reason I became a scientist.”