Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Recent High School Graduate Receives Life-Saving Graduation Gift

This has been a busy time for my family as my daughter, Ruthie, has just graduated from high school. Because we live in a close-knit, fairly small town, we were all zipping around in the days afterward attending graduation parties. We knew many of the 400 or so young people who graduated. In most cases they are blessed with good health and the prospect of a fun summer followed by a college education. But the health picture isn’t sunny for all of them.

I heard this story at one of the parties this weekend: A leader of the senior class, who had leukemia as a child and received many heavy-duty medicines to cure it, is now facing a kidney transplant. His kidney function numbers have taken a nose dive. Usually the wait for a transplant would be a couple of years or more and dialysis for a teenager. In the meantime, this would totally disrupt his life. But there is another way. We’ve talked about it very recently in our videos about kidney transplant: receive a donated kidney from someone who is living.

That is exactly what is happening. The young man will receive a kidney from Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

Extraordinary Physicians Honored For Advances In Medicine

castleconnollybannerI attended the fourth annual Castle Connolly National Physician of the Year Awards last night in New York City. It was truly moving to hear the incredible stories of triumph of each honoree – from military surgery (Dr. Judd Moul), to curing head and neck cancer (Dr. Carol Bradford), to expanding palliative care services for people not expecting a cure (Dr. Diane Meier) – each awardee embodied the very best character and principles one can hope for in a physician.

But perhaps most moving of all was the story of lifetime achievement award-winner, Dr. Emil Freireich. Dr. Freireich was born to Hungarian immigrants, his father died when Emil was 2 years old, his mother worked in a sewing factory to provide for his needs growing up. Through sheer grit and determination, Emil managed to get himself to college and then medical school. He began his career in 1955 at the National Cancer Institute (and has been working at MD Anderson Cancer Center since 1965) where he was provided a challenge: to cure childhood leukemia. Here is what Dr. Freireich had to say about how things have advanced in the field of leukemia in his lifetime:

In 1955 when I began my career at the National Cancer Institute, children diagnosed with leukemia usually lived for about 8 weeks. They had about a 1% chance of surviving a year – and they had a median age of 5 years old at diagnosis.

The worst thing about leukemia was not the short life expectancy, but the way the children died. You see, leukemia destroys blood platelets (the part of the blood that allows it to clot), and produces its own anti-coagulant. So every child with leukemia died of massive hemorrhaging. As a doctor in 1955, when I entered the leukemia ward, all I saw was blood. The children were bleeding in their urine, stool, lungs, and even from their eyes. They would cough to breathe and spew blood as high as the ceilings. The wards were red with death.

But now, thanks to years of research and the development of combination chemotherapy, leukemia is not a death sentence. In most cases it can be cured, and in all cases we can stop the bleeding.

The most rewarding part of my career has been treating young children with leukemia, and watching these same children grow up to become physicians who treat other children with leukemia. I have passed the torch on to them, and I believe that they will one day find the cure for other cancers too. I believe we will get there soon.

I had the chance to interview Dr. Freireich for this blog last year. You may read more here. Congratulations to all the awardees of the event – carry the torch high for us docs, we need more stories of hope like yours… and thanks to Castle Connolly for such an inspirational evening.

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »