This med student was given last rites before finding a treatment that saved his life. His method could help millions
Updated 5:05 PM ET, Mon September 16, 2019
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(CNN)It was just after Christmas in 2013 and David Fajgenbaum was hovering a hair above death.
He lay in a hospital bed at the University of Arkansas, stricken with a rare disease. His blood platelet count was so low that even a slight bump to his body could trigger a lethal brain bleed. A doctor told him to write his living will on a piece of paper.
Fajgenbaum was rushed to a CT scan. Tears streamed down his face and fell on his hospital gown. He thought about the first patient who'd died under his care in medical school, and how her brain had bled in a similar way from a stroke.
He didn't believe he'd live out the scan.
But he did. Turns out his headache wasn't a brain bleed -- just sinus pressure. The chemo had kicked in.
Fajgenbaum was battling Castleman disease, a rare autoimmune disorder involving an overgrowth of cells in the body's lymph nodes. It wasn't the first time a relapse had threatened his life. Massive "shock and awe" chemotherapy regimes had helped him narrowly escape death during four previous attacks, but each new assault on his body weakened him.
"You learn a lot by almost dying," he says.
He learned enough to surprise his doctors by coming up with a way to treat his disease. Almost six years later he's in remission, he and his wife have a baby girl and he's devoting his medical career to saving other patients like him.