When a young medical student learned he was dying, he vowed to fight the disease to the bitter end. Along the way, that young man discovered his own cure.
Now Dr. David Fajgenbaum savors each day like a man living on borrowed time. He nearly died five times before he found his own cure.
"I learned that we need to listen to our hopes and our prayers, Fajgenbaum said. "What are we praying for? What are we hoping for? And then we need to ask ourselves, 'What can we do to turn that into reality?' We need to turn our hopes and prayers into action."
In 2003, Fajgenbaum was a star football player at Georgetown University. He then tackled medical school, wherein his third year, the doctor-in-training suddenly became the patient.
After three months of rapid decline, doctors diagnosed him with Castleman Disease – a cross between cancer and an autoimmune disorder.
There was no treatment for the rare disease - so he found one himself. After testing his own blood and lymph nodes for a year, he finally found a breakthrough by repurposing a drug already on the market.
And, he wrote the book "Chasing My Cure: A Doctor's Race to Turn Hope into Action; A Memoir" detailing his experience of finding a cure for his disease.
Now – as the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the globe – the 35-year-old doctor, father, and husband is assembling a team of volunteers to identify and repurpose a drug to treat COVID-19.
Fajgenbaum, who is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, says COVID-19 is producing a response much like Castleman Disease.
"When we look in the blood of patients with COVID-19, we see a very similar make-up from their immune cells, which is leading us to try a number of Castleman Disease treatments against COVID-19 patients," he said.
Fajgenbaum explained that there are several drugs that are promising, but there is not enough data yet and more testing needs to be done.
"As of right now, we've seen almost 150 different drugs given to patients with COVID-19 and there are a few of them that have made the headlines," he added. "Hopefully over the next few weeks, we'll start learning more and more about the responses patients are having."