This Med Student Cured Himself Of A Deadly Disease

David Fajgenbaum was a Med student when he was diagnosed with a rare and potentially deadly disease. Since there were few available treatments and no known cure, he had to take matters into his own hands.

David Fajgenbaum wanted to become a doctor like his father, and specifically an oncologist to understand the disease which had caused his mother's death.

When he was in his third year, he became very ill and got hospitalized for 5 months.

His liver, kidneys and other organs were being attacked by what he later learned was the 'idiopathic multicentric Castleman disease'. This is a very rare disease that acts partially like an autoimmune condition and partially like cancer. This condition makes certain immune signaling molecules called cytokines to go into overdrive.

While doctors were focusing on saving his life, on his hospital bed, Fajgenbaum noticed some red spots on his skin. He asked the doctors about them, but everyone said they didn't matter.

Doctors tried the only drug used for treating this disease, but it didn't work. He was getting sicker every day, and chemotherapy proved somewhat effective, but only for a while. He was released from the hospital, but he relapsed 3 more times until the doctors told him his body could no longer handle chemo.

He was running out of treatment options, so he researched other ways to save himself.

He examined his medical charts and found that a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, was spiking 10 times its normal level.

He'd learned in med school that VEGF controls blood vessel growth, so he hypothesized that the red spots on his skin were a result of that protein spike, which signals the immune system to take action. He knew about an immunosuppressant called Sirolimus that helps the immune system when it activates against kidney transplants. He believed it might work, so Fajgenbaum asked the doctor to prescribe it for him.

He was right. So far, the drug has been working.

"A drug that could potentially save my life was hiding in plain sight," he says.

He's been in remission for more than five years, he got married to the love of his life, and he is now the father of a baby girl. He also wrote a book about his struggles, titled 'Chasing My Cure', and founded the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network, a global initiative devoted to fighting Castleman disease.

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