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Beating All Odds

How people with remarkable recoveries from incurable illness are the flagship for a new science of health

Heal
illustration of girl swimming with flowers

Happiness by Clare Elsaesser

Since 2003, I have examined the medical records for over 100 survivors of incurable and fatal illnesses, and what I’ve discovered is patterns and principles behind these miracles. In other words, there is nothing spontaneous about what are called spontaneous remissions from illness—nothing miraculous about miracle healings. This realization has changed me, not only as a person, but also as a physician and as a theologian.What remains astonishing to me is how little we have used science to study these individuals. Documented stories of remarkable recoveries—modern stories supported by irrefutable medical evidence—are not flukes or anecdotes in the same way that the accomplishments of great athletes like Serena Williams or Michael Jordan are not flukes and anecdotes. Looking back, when Bob Beamon smashed the Olympic long jump record by nearly two feet at the 1968 Olympics, other athletes and scientists immediately tried to figure out how he did it and how to beat it—even though breaking that new record took almost 23 years. Yet when something similar happens in health care—when someone who has been essent …

Jeffrey Rediger, MD, MDiv, is a psychiatrist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, and is the Medical Director of McLean SE at McLean Hospital. He also has a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. Read his blog at medicineofhopeandpossibility.com. View his recent TEDx Talk here: youtube.com/watch?v=8mjVHIB0FhI


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