Nothing came easy to John Henry “Doc” Holliday, not even his birth. Born with a cleft lip and palate, his odds for survival in 1851 were slim, and would have been slimmer still without the intervention of his amazing mother, Alice Holliday. Alice devoted herself to John Henry's care around the clock, feeding him with an eyedropper for eight weeks. His uncle, a noted surgeon, then repaired the cleft palate in an astounding surgery that the family kept secret to protect “family honor.” John Henry overcame his speech impediments with this mother’s therapy techniques and became proficient in the piano and several classical languages.
Tragically, Alice died a slow, agonizing death from tuberculosis when John Henry was 15 years old. John Henry also contracted tuberculosis as a young man and therefore knew exactly what kind of death was eventually promised him. Newly graduated as a Doctor of Dental Surgery, John Henry left Georgia and headed west in search of a dry climate where he could more successfully battle the disease slowly eating away at his lungs. He ended up in Dodge City, Kansas, a wild frontier town, teetering eternally between chaos and burgeoning civility, and the main setting for Mary Doria Russell's new novel, Doc.