david fajgenbaum near-death experience

Ep100: What Five Near-Death Experiences Can Teach Us About Living | with Dr. David Fajgenbaum

As we’ve learned over the last several weeks (or is it months? Or years? I’ve lost track), there is very little we have control over in life. But if there’s one meta-lesson I hope to take away from current events it’s that although we have no control over what happens around us, the one thing we do have control over is how we react to the circumstances in our lives.

And now more than ever, we could all use an injection of inspiration!

Dr. David Fajgenbaum, the author of ‘Chasing My Cure,’ is no stranger to adversity. As a former Division I college quarterback, a state-champion weightlifter, a holder of multiple degrees such as BS from Georgetown University, an MSc from Oxford, an MD from The University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA from The Wharton School of business, you’d think that David simply has it all (not to mention that he’s been featured in The New York Times, Good Morning America, CNN, The Today Show, amongst others).

But what you wouldn’t know simply from reviewing David’s accolades is that he was stricken with a deadly disorder known as “Castleman Disease” during medical school that nearly killed him not once, not twice, but five separate times. And when you’ve spent this much time contemplating death, you spend an equal amount of time contemplating life.

In this episode David and I talk about his harrowing experience being on death’s door, but more importantly we take an optimistic approach to understand how his circumstances can help us rewire our own perspective on what is truly important in life (and how to tackle the problems we can control while no longer wasting energy on those we cannot)

NOTE: This interview was conducted shortly before the pandemic struck (early March, 2020), so as you’re listening keep that in context when we briefly discuss the virus.

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Here’s What You’ll Learn:

  • Dr. Fajgenbaum’s “Santa Claus Theory of Civilization” and why it’s so fundamental to many of the challenges we face in society.
  • The incredible story of how David went from the pinnacle of health (a champion weight lifter) to being so frail that laughing too hard might kill him.
  • How a rare disease led to FIVE near-death experiences.
  • The moment he realized there was no drug out there to save his life and how that led to him dedicating his life to identify treatments for the disease.
  • How living in “overtime” – knowing the clock is ticking has helped him focus on what’s most important.
  • Why constantly being so close to death not only gave him clarity, but also manage his fear in ways we can all learn from.
  • 3 lessons he learned in his pursuit of a cure that could help you overcome almost anything.
  • Why it’s so important to take ownership of your own health care.
  • Practical advice on how to talk with your doctor and what questions to ask.
  • How David became such a good storyteller. (His book is superbly well-written! A real page turner.)

Useful Resources Mentioned:

Chasing My Cure: A Doctor’s Race to Turn Hope Into Action

Castleman Disease Collaborative Network (CDCN)

Our Generous Sponsors:

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Guest Bio:

David Fajgenbaum

David Fajgenbaum, MD, MBA, MSc is one of the youngest individuals ever appointed to the faculty at Penn Medicine and the author of Chasing My Cure: A Doctor’s Race to Turn Hope Into Action. After spending months hospitalized in critical condition, having his last rites read, and having four deadly relapses of idiopathic multicentric Castleman disease (iMCD) during medical school, David decided to fight back by conducting research and creating the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network (CDCN).

He is now in his longest remission ever thanks to a treatment that he identified and began testing on himself. One of the top 1 percent youngest grant awardees of an NIH R01, he has dedicated his career to discovering new treatments for deadly disorders like iMCD and spreading the CDCN’s ‘collaborative network approach’ as a model for other diseases.

Dr. Fajgenbaum has been recognized on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, a cover story by The New York Times as well as by Good Morning America, CNN, and the Today Show. Dr. Fajgenbaum earned a BS from Georgetown University, MSc from the University of Oxford, MD from the University of Pennsylvania, and MBA from The Wharton School. He is a former Division I college quarterback, state-champion weight lifter, and co-founder of a national grief support network.



Show Credits:

This episode was edited by Curtis Fritsch, and the show notes were prepared and published by Glen McNiel.

The original music in the opening and closing of the show is courtesy of Joe Trapanese (who is quite possibly one of the most talented composers on the face of the planet).

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Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”