The motivation of disease

Regular readers know that I am a big fan of the Wall Street Journal Health Blog. While the WSJ is often most associated by us lefties with its conservative op-ed page, the Journal has consistently maintained a high standard for science and medical reporter (which I hope continues under Rupert Murdoch).
With that said, Jacob Goldstein today brings us a good news post on childhood cancer survivor, Dr Trevor Banka, who is now doing his oncology residency (presumably surgical oncology) at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital with Dr Michael Mott. Mott is the very same surgeon who operated on Banka’s knee for osteosarcoma 15 years ago. Banka continued as his patient through his teenage years and through medical school at Michigan State.

Banka said Mott had a lot to do with his decision to become a doctor.
“Going through this, I saw the ability the physicians had with, not only saving my life, but to give my life back,” he said.
“I was able to keep my leg,” Banka said. “He would often tell me, `Trevor, you have to treat this leg like you’re a 60-year-old man.’ He told me I could swim, golf and maybe bowl.”
Those options weren’t too appealing, so Banka took up biking and has made two cross-country trips.
“I had to balance his medical advice with being a young teen,” he said. [source]


The original report comes from Corey Williams at AP, not the WSJ. However, this story reminds me very much of a series of WSJ articles by Amy Dockser Marcus on Andy Martin, a Tulane medical student who isolated and experimented on cells from his own rare cancer, sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma (SNUC).
Sadly, Andy died in Nov 2004 but his major professor, Dr Tyler Curiel, spirited out frozen samples of Andy’s cells following Hurricane Katrina (also covered by Amy in the WSJ). Nova Science Now also had a 10 min post-Katrina video interview with earlier footage of Andy and a fundraiser for Andy’s work where Dr Curiel, an ultramarathoner, ran a world record 108-miles in 24 hr while dribbling a basketball.
(As an aside, I have a detailed post and repost here that details Curiel’s work while staying behind during Katrina with his wife, infectious disease specialist Dr Ruth Berggren. They co-authored in the NEJM one article about post-Katrina health care infrastructure; Dr Berggren also had an outstanding and moving account of their time in Charity Hospital.).
I’m always touched deeply by young patients who are so driven by their experience to do what they can for others with the disease. In fact, I find that many of us and our students are attracted to our respective fields because of some related, but perhaps less immediately personal, experience with a disease or a certain patient population. Dr Banka’s story is indeed a breath of fresh air and encouragement.

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One thought on “The motivation of disease

  1. I’ve known four or five people who experienced long hospitalizations or major surgeries for serious childhood illnesses or injuries, and then went on to become physicians or nurses. Glad to hear that Dr. Banka is doing well!

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