David Fajgenbaum graduated from medical school with an intimate knowledge of illness.
In his third year, he was diagnosed with Castleman disease, a very rare illness where the immune system attacks the liver, kidneys and bone marrow. Only 5,000 to 6,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.
At first Fajgenbaum experienced flu-like symptoms. Then his kidney and liver started to shut down. He was hospitalized for months and read his last rites. But after several rounds of chemo, he recovered and returned to medical school.
“Chemotherapy attacks and kills the whole immune system, so in a disease when an immune system is attacking your organs, if you just wipe out your whole immune system, then you’ll stop the disease,” says Fajgenbaum. “The research we’re trying to drive forward is to figure out what is wrong with the immune system so we can be more targeted with our therapy.”
After graduating from medical school, Fajgenbaum went on to complete an MBA at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Even with his health relapsing about every 15 months for the past four years–Fajgenbaum now heads the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network and works as a research professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Ever since I had my last rites read to me, I’ve really considered myself in overtime,” says Fajgenbaum. “And when you’re in overtime you try to make every second count.”