Dear Santa: A Special Request to Save Millions of Lives
You are the world’s most recognized, beloved and unchallenged expert on Christmas gifts and the spirit of Christmas along with the joy of giving and receiving. That is why I am writing you this heartfelt letter asking for your help to save lives. My gift request will not add a heavy burden to your sleigh which already is filled with gifts for people around the world. In fact, it doesn’t weigh anything at all. You see, I am a doctor who has spent over fifty years doing clinical and scientific research to find cures for diseases and conditions that affect children and adults around the world. And time is running out on me so I would like to ask you for a gift of $1.0 million to the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine (FIM), a 501-C-3 not for profit foundation dedicated to finding cures. Here is why we need it and what we intend to do with it:
In 1965 I brought carnitine into the United States and, collaborating with my friend, the late Claudio Cavazza in Italy, we managed to obtain FDA approval for a rare and fatal disease in children, Carnitine Deficiency. That was our life saving gift to the young. But, unfortunately, along the way I learned that our system profoundly- and I mean, profoundly- discourages the clinical testing of promising new therapies in patients. Yet, as you may know, this is the only way to discover better medical weapons, particularly cures. One can’t discover the treatment of carnitine deficiency unless a child with this condition is given carnitine . The same holds true with all conditions from acne to Alzheimer’s.
Santa, alarmed by this reality, in 1972 my first book, Drug Discovery: The Pending Crisis was published calling attention to this unrecognized national tragedy. As a doable solution, I proposed that physician volunteers or “doctornauts”, a term which I coined, be able to volunteer for clinical studies much more freely than all others. Many more potential therapies would then be clinically tested and, which is uncontestable, many more medical breakthroughs and cures discovered within a short period of time. Though this is as self-evident as can be, both issues were ignored. For this reason in 1976 I established FIM, the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine , whose mission is encourage ways to speed up medical discovery. I proposed to Congress, as the principal recommendation, to pass the Doctornaut Act which would make doctornauts a reality .
Though I found this hard to believe, we had and continue to encounter an unmovable cultural blind spot regarding the magnitude of the tragedy which permits millions of patients to suffer and prematurely encounter their final moments. What truly baffles me, Santa, was the total absence of the appreciation of the humanistic beauty of the solution. In a real sense, doctors who are willing to take greater risks in clinical studies, including sometimes risking their lives, are offering the highest level of gifts to their patients. I wonder when you were Saint Nicholas, way back in the third century A.D., in Turkey, if you encountered this same type of puzzling humanistic neutrality.
There was, however, one bright moment in my journey. The then Senate Majority Leader and physician, Bill Frist, embraced the Doctornaut Act, circulated a draft of it for review, but found no support- anywhere. You may wonder why. To this day, so do I.
So, Santa, you must be thinking the case may be hopeless and wonder how only one million dollars, which is not much these days, can do the job. It’s because there are enough encouraging signs that the winds of fate are now changing course favoring the Doctornaut Act approval. The subject of health care cost reduction is certainly one of major national concern, and U.S. presidential race candidates of 2016 will have no choice but to address this concern. FIM has consistently stressed that the best way to reduce health care costs, is to cure diseases or discover superior, low cost therapies. The Doctornaut Act will unquestionably accelerate this process. Simply put: if there is no disease there are no costs. For example, it’s estimated that the total cost of the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease by 2050 will be $20 trillion, more than our current national debt! Cures of other major diseases such as diabetes and cancer will also result in dramatic cost reduction. Santa, it’s interesting to note that health cost projections do not factor in the discovery of cures reflecting our current national obsession with care. Incredible as it may seem, none, to my knowledge, has raised this issue. Go figure!
Now getting back to the encouraging news: Because of the highly visible national concern of skyrocketing health care costs, the FIM Cure Care Cost Reduction Initiative should be receptive to both parties of Congress for it is bipartisan in nature. In addition, the Doctornaut Act is a simple, easy to understand one requiring perhaps only 10 to 12 pages, unlike the extremely lengthy and complex Affordable Care Act which few understand in its entirety. What is needed is a targeted persuasive educational effort both to Congress and influential players including the media. My colleagues, knowledgeable in the ways and dynamics of Washington, estimate that it will take approximately one million dollars to cover all bases. And that’s what I want for my Christmas gift.
Now I know that Christmas time of 2015 is over and that you and Dasher, Dancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen- led as always by Rudolph – are taking a much deserved break from your whirlwind Christmas tour of bringing gifts and cheer to families across the globe… and relaxing in order to charge your batteries for your next journey. But with modern technology, you don’t have to fly back and climb down my chimney to deliver the million dollar gift under my Christmas tree. You can simply send a check or, better yet, do it by electronic transfer.
Santa, this is one of the most needed Christmas gifts since you have been flying in the skies. I must emphasize that the window of opportunity to convince Congress to pass the Doctornaut Act is narrow. So think about it and get back to me-soon.
Stephen L. DeFelice, M.D.
For your information, there’s lots of information on the Doctornaut Act on FIM,www.fimdefelice.org.