In the summer of 2010, 25-year-old David Fajgenbaum, a former Georgetown football quarterback nicknamed "The Beast" by his teammates, and then a third year medical student at the University of Pennsylvania Medical school, nearly died for the first time. His immune system had suddenly resolved to destroy his body, and his organs began shutting down. As a priest administered last rites to David, it appeared another young life brimming with potential was about to be snuffed out. But David had other plans. Pulling back from the brink of death, he brought with him a diagnosis-the rare and understudied multicentric idiopathic Castleman Disease, and a relentless determination to find a cure.
In the intervening years, the now-Dr. Fajgenbaum earned his medical degree, a Wharton MBA, and is renown as the living embodiment of the Biblical exhortation, "Physician, heal thyself." He also survived three subsequent flare-ups, which only steeled his resolve to solve the disease. Throwing himself into research, study and therapeutic experimentation on his own body, Dr. Fajgenbaum has done more to advance the medical community's understanding of Castleman Disease than anyone before. His work now continues through the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network, the nonprofit he founded to coordinate research under the auspices of Penn Medicine.
In this two-part edition of Overheard, Ajay and Dr. Fajgenbaum sit down to talk about patient-driven care, what it means to be your own guinea pig, creating silver linings out of thin air, and how to ride life's dizzying extremes with grace and grit. Dr. Fajgenbaum is a unique human specimen, to be sure, but his insights will resonate deeply with all of us.
Want to skip around? Check out these highlights:
:44 - David's backstory and why it is key to this story?
1:55 - When you are given your death sentence, how do you fight it?
4:22 - What did death mean to David? He already was too familiar with it.
5:26 - What is Castleman Disease?
8:49 - When you are the doctor and the patient at the same time...
11:28 - The approach: 1500 FDA approved drugs - can they work for other diseases?
13:53 - Is medicine still in the "dark ages?"
15:42 - Patients are driving research in a new way.
18:44 - Hope is important, but is it enough?
19:17 - Words most people never say: "The first three times I almost died..."
20:45 - Overtime of your life - what does it make you think about?
25:32 - Ajay: How can others learn to be fighters like you?
28:45 - How does a person who saves lives maintain humility?
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