In 1993 Neil Spector,then an oncologist and cancer researcher at an institution elsewhere, found his life spiraling downward – once the picture of health, he began to experience debilitating symptoms, including cardiac arrhythmias, excruciating fatigue and joint pain. After several tests proved inconclusive, Spector’s doctor told him stress was to blame.
Convinced otherwise, Spector spent the next several years battling the medical system in a quest to get to the heart of the matter. In the meantime, without a diagnosis or a cure, the condition of his heart rapidly deteriorated. Although in 1997 Spector finally received a medical diagnosis, it was far too late for his broken heart. He had just 10 percent heart function – a frightening condition he would negotiate every day of his life for the next 11 years.
“Without a permanent pacemaker and a defibrillator to maintain a sustainable heart rate, I most likely would have experienced a fatal arrhythmia,” Spector said. “Eventually, however, not even a pacemaker and a defibrillator could sustain my heart rate.”
In 2009, after a series of life-threatening complications, Spector had no other choice but to undergo a heart transplant. Now, just in time for Valentine’s Day, Spector shares his harrowing and heartfelt story in his memoir, Gone with A Heartbeat: A Physician’s Search For True Healing.
Neil Spector, MD, a physician-scientist with the DCI, recently interviewed with UNC-TV to share his work as a breast cancer researcher. He will be featured as one of several panelists in an upcoming program, “Cancer: Focus On Life,” to be aired on UNC-TV on Wednesday, April 1. Spector’s memoir, Gone In A Heartbeat: A Physician’s Search For True Healing, was released in early February.
“I knew from the start that my symptoms were not the result of stress, but I just couldn’t get anyone to pay attention and listen,” said Spector, who despite his chronic illness developed two cancer drugs before getting a second chance at health and wellness. “In my book I hope to drive home the importance of advocating for oneself. Many people are falling through the medical cracks. Too often doctors are not listening to their patients. It’s a team effort – the patient and the doctor. The patient best understands his or her body. In my book I tell them to trust their instincts. Look for answers.”
Gone With A Heartbeat is a gripping medical saga, an inspirational recount and a cautionary tale from a medical insider’s perspective. In his book Spector challenges the medical community to care for patients as unique individuals and not according to algorithm. He invites patients to become active rather than passive participants in matters of personal health. Spector stresses there are “more unknowns when it comes to human disease than there are knowns.”
Gone In A Heartbeat: A Physician’s Search For True Healing is now available online at Amazon. Spector’s memoir can also be purchased at fine bookstores everywhere, including the Duke Medical Bookstore, located in the Red Zone of Duke South.
Circle photo: Neil Spector, MD, and his wife, Denise Spector, PhD, pose with Neil's book, Gone In A Heartbeat. "Neil's story is inspiring and powerful," Denise says. "I believe the process of writing the book has been very therapeutic for him. Having learned much from his personal health journey, Neil hopes to help others advocate for their own health."