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David Fajgenbaum '03 Visits Campus to Share Inspirational Story Behind Memoir

Ravenscroft hosted David Fajgenbaum '03 for a series of talks on Monday, Sept. 16, in which he shared the story of his near-fatal onset of Castleman Disease, his journey to recovery and his research to find a successful treatment.

He retraces his experiences and reflects on the lessons he drew from them in a newly published memoir, "Chasing My Cure: A Doctor's Race to Turn Hope into Action," which was released Sept. 10.

Fajgenbaum met with students throughout the school day to talk about how he overcome the odds against his recovery and turned his hope for a cure into action. The evening session, which took place in Jones Theatre, was open to the public and was livestreamed on the Ravenscroft Alumni Facebook page. Many current and former faculty and staff attended, as did alumni, their parents, and friends.

"I wrote 'Chasing My Cure' about my journey to share lessons learned about living from nearly dying and fighting back," he said during his evening presentation. "I could not think of a better place to start [my book tour] than here, because all of you taught me something."

Fajgenbaum was diagnosed with Castleman Disease — a rare disorder that he describes as being a cross between autoimmune disease and cancer — while in medical school and has since experienced four relapses, all of them life-threatening. Today, the former Division I college quarterback, championship wrestler and 2016 recipient of Ravenscroft's Distinguished Alumni Award is in a years-long remission thanks to a treatment he uncovered after studying his own test samples.

"I had always had confidence that someone out there was going to come up with something to treat my disease," he said. "When I learned there wasn't, it lit a fire under me to be the one who would do it. I had to at least try.

"I initially didn't have the strength and courage to do that, but I had to find it," he added.

As a result, Fajgenbaum is co-founder and executive director of the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network (CDCN) and an NIH-funded physician-scientist, working to find new treatments for this and other rare disorders. In addition to his science and medical degrees, he earned an MBA to help him address challenges to the traditional research-funding model and foster greater collaboration among scientists studying rare conditions.

He refers to his recovery and remission as "overtime" that he is determined to use to its fullest — and his many accolades show he is doing just that. He is one of the youngest individuals to be appointed to the faculty at Penn Medicine. He has been recognized on the Forbes 30 Under 30 healthcare list and is one of the youngest people ever elected as a Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the nation's oldest medical society. In 2016, he was one of three recipients — including Vice President Joe Biden — of an Atlas Award from the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. He has also received a RARE Champion of Hope: Science award.

Fajgenbaum was featured on CBS 17 last week as he kicked off his Raleigh appearances.

At right, clockwise from top left: Fajgenbaum with Athletic Director Ned Gonet; with some of the current and retired faculty members who came to his evening talk; signing copies of his book in Pugh Lobby; talking to ninth- and 10th-graders in Jones Theatre.