The Honored Doctor
Friday, September 28, 2007
Routinely, his gray Toyota hybrid is parked from 6:30 a.m. until late at night outside Building 31 at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. Sometimes his colleagues leave notes on the windshield that say things like, "Go home. You're making me feel guilty."
But Anthony S. Fauci has made a career of long hours, exhaustive research and helping the public understand the health dangers stalking the planet. As director for 23 years of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, his milieu is the stuff that scares the daylights out of most people: bioterrorism, deadly flu epidemics, the enduring specter of AIDS.
Fauci, who is equally at home in the laboratory, at a patient's bedside, at a congressional hearing or on a Sunday morning talk show, scarcely has time to collect all the accolades that come his way. But this has been an extraordinary year. In the spring, he won the Kober Medal, one of the highest honors bestowed by the Association of American Physicians. In July, President Bush awarded him the National Medal of Science. And today, he receives one of medicine's most prestigious prizes, the $150,000 Mary Woodard Lasker public service award, as "a world-class investigator" who "has spoken eloquently on behalf of medical science," according to the Lasker Foundation.
No one deserves the honors more, his associates agree.
"Dr. Fauci is the best of his kind," said former U.S. surgeon general C. Everett Koop, 90, who has often sought Fauci's medical advice and counts himself as a friend.
For someone else, this might be heady stuff. But Tony Fauci, 66, has never strayed far from his down-to-earth Brooklyn roots or his Jesuit training, with its emphasis on service and intellectual growth. Beginning his career in the lab -- viewed by many as a backwater of medicine -- he soon became the chief detective probing a mystery that would encircle the world. Before AIDS even had a name, he made the "fateful decision," he said, to make it the focus of his research.
"It was a matter of destiny, I think, but by circumstance alone I had been trained in the very disciplines that encompassed this brand-new bizarre disease," he said. "This was in my mind something that was going to be historic."
He and his researchers would make breakthroughs in understanding how HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, destroys the body's immune system. Years ago, he assumed a public role, calmly explaining the latest health scares on talk shows such as "Face the Nation." Through four presidential administrations, he has led efforts that resulted in Congress dramatically increasing funding to fight AIDS.
Today, as Fauci helps direct the president's emergency plan for AIDS relief in Africa and elsewhere, he also is leading the fight against such infectious diseases as anthrax and tuberculosis. In his $250,000-a-year position, he oversees 1,700 employees and a $4.4 billion annual budget.
"Fauci doesn't sleep," said Gregory K. Folkers, his chief of staff. "He's the hardest-working person you'll ever encounter."
The doctor's curriculum vitae supports that assertion. The bibliography alone is 86 pages, listing 1,118 articles and papers he has written or contributed to. (An example: "The Role of Monocyte/Macrophages and Cytokines in the Pathogenesis of HIV Infection," published in "Pathobiology" in 1992.) He has given more than 2,000 speeches, rehearsing with a stopwatch to whittle down his remarks. He has received 31 honorary doctoral degrees.
Vacations are seldom on the agenda. Often, his wife and three daughters accompany him to events. This summer, it was the International AIDS conference in Sydney. But he is seldom found sitting by the pool behind his Northwest Washington home. And retirement, he said firmly, is "not on the radar screen."