My dad sold sofa beds, and my mom was a travel agent, so I’m not sure how my brother and I both became neurologists. My brother is 13 years older than me, and when he was a neurology resident at Mount Sinai Hospital, I spent the night on call with him when I was 12. He probably had something to do with me becoming a doctor.
I went to an accelerated six-year B.A./M.D. program at the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Medicine at age 17, finished my B.A. at 19 and got my medical degree at 23. I became interested in studying Alzheimer’s disease because of my Uncle Bob. When I was 3, I fell into my aunt’s pool and sank to the bottom. Uncle Bob, who was in the Navy, jumped in and rescued me, so he and I always had this connection. When I was in high school and applying to medical programs, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 70. It just was like, “Wow, we can’t do anything? There’s no treatment?” In all, four of my family members have been diagnosed with the disease — including my dad’s cousin, whom I helped treat and eventually diagnose.
My family history definitely started me down the path to specializing in treating Alzheimer’s. But more so, it changed the way that I approached the overall management of the disease. As with many other chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes, comprehensive management is much more than “a pill.” Having a few Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs on the market was marginally helpful, but what about lifestyle changes, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and stress management? And there is a saying, once you have seen one person with Alzheimer’s, well, you have seen one person with Alzheimer’s. What is meant by this is that from a clinical perspective, Alzheimer’s is a very heterogeneous disease. In my mind, I didn’t feel comfortable with a one-size-fits-all approach and started looking deeper, considering genetic variations and the person’s individual biology, in crafting a targeted plan.
Why did I come to NewYork-Presbyterian? In 2011, I went to a Yankees game with a peer who worked at the hospital and he made a joke like, “Yeah, we’re the official hospital of the New York Yankees and we’re hiring.” I’m like, “Hmm, interesting.” I interviewed here in 2012. At the time, the dean of Weill Cornell Medicine had heard my idea for an Alzheimer’s prevention clinic and thought that it sounded crazy — Alzheimer’s has been considered unpreventable. I had 15 minutes to make my case. Given my long curriculum vitae she expected someone older, with a beard and a bow tie — not someone barely 30 years old. When we met, she started asking me how I had accomplished so much at a young age. Then, in the last three minutes, I finally had the chance to talk about the Alzheimer’s clinic, and she said, “OK, I’ll let you do the screening thing.”