Since her late teens Ms. Boo, who is now 47, has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and several related immunological disorders. She walks a little slowly and sometimes has trouble with her eyes. Her fingers are gnarled and bent. That she is still able to type is owing in large part to a 2002 MacArthur grant, which helped pay for surgery on her right hand.
For someone in her condition the best treatment is drugs that suppress the immune system, and these do not make such a person an ideal candidate for spending time in a slum where tuberculosis is practically epidemic. But one night Ms. Boo tripped over an unabridged dictionary in her own apartment, puncturing a lung and breaking three ribs, and decided home wasn’t much safer. “I thought if I don’t work, I’m risking my mental health,” she said.
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