Lying in a hospital bed at the University of Arkansas, he was suffering from a rare disease. His platelet count was so low that even a slight bump on his body could cause a fatal cerebral hemorrhage. A doctor asked him to write his will on a piece of paper.
Fajgenbaum was brought to a CT. Tears ran down his face and fell on his hospital gown. He thought of the first patient who had died in his care at the medical school and how her brain had bled in a similar way from a stroke.
He did not think he would survive the scan.
But he did it. It turned out that his headache was not a brain hemorrhage – just sinus pressure. The chemotherapy had started.
Fajgenbaum fought Castleman's disease, a rare autoimmune disease that resulted in the overgrowth of cells in the lymph nodes of the body. It was not the first time a relapse threatened his life. Massive chemotherapy with "shock and awe" had helped him flee just before death in four previous attacks, but any new attack on his body weakened him.
"You learn a lot when you almost die," he says.
He learned enough to surprise his doctors with a way to treat his illness. Almost six years later he is in remission, he and his wife have a little girl and he dedicates his medical career to the salvation of other patients like him.
His story contains lessons for the future of rare disease research ̵
His first love was football.
As a boy in Raleigh, North Carolina, Fajgenbaum spent the Saturdays on the sideline watched the NC State Wolfpack with his father, the team's doctor.
At age 7, he became obsessed with becoming Division 1 athlete The walls of his bedroom were covered with football playing cards.