Keeping the legacy. She works for her dad's cause

Author: Bill Moor


When Sarah Craig Peterek was working at Saint Mary’s College, she would sometimes join her father, Notre Dame biology professor George Craig, for lunch.p. And for scores of hungry little mosquitoes, the two of them were the main course.p. “I would bring over a picnic lunch to his lab and we would sit with our arms in the (mosquito) cages for live blood meal feedings,” Sarah admits.p. Ouch, ouch and ouch.p. It was all in the name of science, of course.p. George Craig, who died of a heart attack at the age of 65 eight years ago, was one of the world’s leading authorities on mosquitoes and the diseases they transmitted.p. His wife, Betty, and their four children must have sometimes wondered if they were living on the Mosquito Coast instead of up by Kiefer Ditch in Clay Township.p. “I guess you could say my childhood was a little different than those of my friends,” Sarah says. "My dad would be driving us down the road and then suddenly pull over whenever he saw a bog.p. “Since I was the youngest kid, Dad would say to me, ‘Sarah, run over there and dip it.’ And I would, bringing back a sample (of any mosquito eggs and larvae) that we would often take home.”p. Sarah, now 41, married to husband Mike and raising three kids in their Niles home, even admits she would keep ticks for pets.p. “And, no, mosquito bites never were any big deal to me,” she says.p. Maybe that’s why she also didn’t mind all her crazy floor burns from being a volleyball setter both at Clay High School and Albion College.p. “It was wonderful being around my dad and learning how to look for the beauty in every living thing,” Sarah says. “With my mom also a biologist, dinner talk could be pretty gross at times.”p. Although she always liked her bugs, Sarah decided not to follow in her father’s footsteps — or try to match his bite marks.p. She went into development and administration — working for the American Heart Association, Saint Mary’s College and the Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County.p. But then last fall, she got the call back to the wild.p. The Rev. Thomas Streit, one of her father’s former students, phoned Sarah — while she happened to be sitting in her father’s office at her parents’ home — and asked if she would like to work for him in otre Dame’s Haiti Program. p. The program is part of the university’s Center for Tropical Disease Research and Training, which her father helped establish. Its primary mission is to eliminate the debilitating mosquito-borne disease of lymphatic filariasis (LF), the overwhelming cause of elephantiasis in Haiti.p. “How could I say no?” Sarah says.p. This is part of her father’s legacy, after all.p. So since November, she has served as the Haiti Program’s marketing manager. Her office is in the same Galvin Life Science building where her dad’s labs still are — and where she used to romp down the hall as a youngster.p. “I grew up in this place,” she says.p. And now, she is raising both the public’s consciousness and money for one of its programs, one that was infused with a $5.2 million grant from the Bill&Melinda Gates Foundation.p. “Even though my (academic) background isn’t biology, I can understand biologists because of spending so much time with my dad,” she says.p. The Haiti program, and its goal to thwart a mosquito-borne disease, would have been close to her father’s heart.p. “It is a great example of what Notre Dame does out in the world,” Sarah says. "This program is not just research, but a public health project that can change people’s lives.p. “LF is not known as a killer but is a maimer — one that leaves people with grotesque disfigurement. And because of that, society tends to ostracize those who are affected.”p. Although the political unrest in Haiti has not hindered the research, Sarah has had a couple of her own planned trips canceled to that country. She hopes to see the program firsthand later this spring.p. “I am ecstatic that Sarah is in the program,” her mother, Betty, says. “And I know her father has to be so very proud.”p. Sarah remembers when her father used to read to her three children — Maddy, now 14; Mitchell, 11; and Tyler, 9.p. His choices were stories like “The Butterfly Ball,” “Miss Spider’s Tea Party” and, of course, “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears.”p. Sarah still enjoys the sound of a mosquito’s buzz.p. “But I certainly don’t mind smashing them if they land on me,” she says. “I do have an appreciation for them, though.”p. They are, after all, a weird and yet wonderful reminder of her dad.

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