First person perspective: Dr. Anthony S. Fauci & the NIH Clinical Center
Everyone on the planet knows that Dr. Anthony Fauci is leaving the NIH at the end of this year. While there is no shortage of interviews and stories in the national media marking this event, Dr. Fauci's unique relationship with the NIH Clinical Center deserves at least this brief commentary. I think the relationship is best viewed through a series of short vignettes that – as the CEO of the Clinical Center – I have access to but others may not. None have occurred in the public whirlwind of Dr. Fauci's activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am confident that the essence of these vignettes is true, but I have not fact checked with Dr. Fauci. There is something pleasantly mischievous about writing this piece without his approval.
Some time ago, the Clinical Center's executive officer, Dan Lonnerdal, informed me that the Project SEARCH folks then present in the workplace wanted to know if they could have a picture taken with Dr. Fauci. Project Search is the jobs training program here for young adults with intellectual and developmental learning difficulties. I was pretty confident that Dr. Fauci would be down with this request but also knew that he had more on his plate than anyone could manage. I approached him through his inner circle and, sure enough, we had the green light to make the arrangements for the photo shoot. Because of scheduling issues, the photo shoot had to be postponed and rescheduled two or three times. Note the wording here. The photo shoot was never cancelled. Dr. Fauci understood full well what this photo op meant to our staff from Project SEARCH. The photos were eventually taken, and I have it from a reliable witness that Dr. Fauci took time with these incredible young people and he had a good time personally. Note that there was no media presence and no pictures hit the public domain. This event was for the Project SEARCH folks.
We had a young patient in the 7 SWN clinic who had the audacity (I say “audacity” with a smile and tongue in cheek)
to ask to meet Dr. Fauci. As his accompanying parent noted, the nature of the patient's malady eliminated the lifesaving (at least in my case) filter between his brain and his mouth.
The patient made his request to a member of the Department of Perioperative Medicine staff involved in his procedure. The staff member sent an email to Dr. Fauci, and, sure enough, Dr. Fauci paid the patient a visit. Just as in the previous vignette, no fanfare, no entourage, no media, no pictures in the public domain – just Dr. Fauci providing a bright spot in the life of a young man who has few enough bright spots because of his medical issues.
The most important things Dr. Fauci and I have in common are (1) we both married well (somebody please tell my wife that I wrote this) and (2) we both have three daughters and no sons. Parenthetically, acclaimed Dr. Holland (NIAID Scientific Director) and Dr. Pao (NIMH Clinical Director), who also work inside the Clinical Center, are members of the three-daughters-with-no-sons club as well, while Dr. Lane (NIAID Clinical Director) overachieved with four daughters and, hence, only qualifies for affiliate status.
One of Dr. Fauci's daughters recently got married in New Orleans. the only problem was that Dr. Fauci had COVID-19 and could not get on a plane to be there. Watching your daughter get married on Facebook Live isn't any father's dream. Again – no media attention even though it would have been a great opportunity to enlist some support for Dr. Fauci. Putting this into the public domain would have further detracted from his daughter's big day. He earned bonus Father-of-the-Year points that day.
Now I do not want anyone to think that I am not aware of Dr. Fauci's many faults. Some time ago I noticed a book for children in the FAES (Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences) bookstore window entitled Dr. Fauci is Never Grouchy. I asked Dr. Christine Grady, Dr. Fauci's wife, if she had been consulted about the book title. She assured me that she had not been consulted and that the book should probably be catalogued in the bookstore section devoted to fiction. He gets grouchy. Who knew?
Then there is that time when he called a senator from Kansas a bad word. So he isn't very good at spotting open microphones in spite of all the practice he's had. Most significantly, there is that first pitch at the Washington Nationals game. Probably nothing more needs to be said about that.
The hyperpolarized world may debate Dr. Fauci's greatness. This piece has been about his goodness. If the price of greatness is the price Dr. Fauci and his family have paid over the last couple of years, then I don't know why anyone wants to be great anyway. But I think I know a thing or two about goodness. I think Dr. Fauci's inherent goodness, as evidenced by the vignettes in this piece, is the epoxy that binds the NIH Clinical Center tightly to him. He loves the Clinical Center and we know it. The Clinical Center loves him and we surely hope he knows that as well. Those of us who work in the NIH Clinical Center have been witnesses to Dr. Fauci's goodness for over forty years. We know what he's like when the rest of the world isn't looking, and we couldn't be more proud of what we have been privileged to see. There is no debate for us..
- Dr. James K. Gilman is the CEO of the NIH Clinical Center and has been a physician for over 40 years.