If you’re putting together a most-interesting-people-in-the-world dinner party, Jeff Rediger might be at the head of the table.
Jeff grew up with an Amish background – no dancing allowed, rare access to TV and no radio; and the family farm provided the wheat flour for the morning pancakes. He rattled his parents for years by questioning everything and from an early age was taught the Bible at home but science at school. Those were thought to be contradictory worlds. He attended seminary after college and obtained a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. And then, in a turn of events, he decided to go to medical school.
“While at Princeton, my best friend’s mom from high school asked, ‘What are you going to do with all that education?’ I told her I was going to become a professor,” recalls Jeff. “She quickly said, ‘You’re going to get all that education and not do something that helps people?’ I thought a lot about that. It was difficult for people from the world I came from to understand where I was going and what I was doing. Later on, when I suggested medical school, everyone seemed relieved. That made sense to them. It made sense to me too and provided a way for me to do something practical but also have time for my ideas and questions. It was a perfect reconciliation of all the opposites.”
After seminary, med school and then training in psychiatry, he took a position at Harvard. And continued his quest to find answers.
“Being in the hospital every day and seeing that we treat symptoms and not causes was not working for me,” says Jeff. “I knew that there had to be something more.”
Jeff recalls an encounter with a nurse who had pancreatic cancer. She inspired a research effort that has been going on now since 2002.
“She went to Brazil to see a healer and called me repeatedly saying that she was getting better. She wanted me to do research on those who had medical evidence for disease remission, but I refused. The truth is, I was afraid of what my peers would think,” explains Jeff. “She was relentless. She had people start calling me from around the world to tell me their stories and to let me know that they had medical evidence to prove them. The long and the short of it is that I did eventually go to Brazil. And had to eventually admit that people had medical evidence to prove, in some cases, that they were recovering from illnesses that in western medicine we traditionally consider incurable. And that’s where it all started for me. I owe a lot to her.”
Jeff began to study miraculous stories of healing. “If you’re on the science side, you call these stories of spontaneous remission and regard them as flukes, with no scientific value. If you’re on the spiritual or religious side, they’re called miracles or spiritual healing. Either way, these stories have not been investigated by science. But should be,” says Jeff.
“Too many cases exist where the evidence is indisputable,” he continues. “We need to get to the bottom of what’s going on here. What we have assumed are anomalies don’t look like anomalies after you’ve seen over a hundred cases and been overwhelmed by many others sent my way, still awaiting more examination. Clear commonalities exist across many stories and diagnoses. For one, these individuals are not passive recipients of their treatment. They take responsibility for their treatment and they pay a great deal of attention to both the mental and physical. In the same way that we study people like Steve Jobs in business and Serena Williams or Tom Brady in sports, we should be studying the ultimate achievers in health. These are not flukes.”
These stories have caused him to consider that much of modern medicine is brilliant, but needs a shift in focus away from just a science of disease, toward a science of health.
“Modern medicine is like a long line of ambulances, rushing people to treatment after falling off the cliff. What we need are guardrails at the top so that people don’t fall off in the first place,” he says. “And it is fascinating to me that the strategies that create and maintain health, under certain conditions, also heal illness dramatically. We should be studying this!”
Jeff says that giving people a platform to share their stories is one of the most important ways to change medicine for the better.
He’ll share his own interesting ‘dinner party’ at What’s the Fix? May 17th with stories of the inspiring people he’s studied.
Jeff has focused on the mind-body connection for years, researching remarkable individuals who have recovered from illnesses considered incurable. He’s fascinated by how people get better in ways that we don’t understand. A theologian and Harvard physician, Jeff believes spiritual wellness and fulfillment are an integral part of being human and contribute to one’s ability to flourish. He’s given a TEDx talk and has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Oz Shows, among others.