Intel Executive Shares Personal Health Tragicomedy

Eric Dishman discussed his battle with kidney cancer when he keynoted the annual symposium sponsored by the Oregon Medical Association and OCHIN on Wednesday.

Eric Dishman, general manager of Intel's Health Strategy & Solutions Group, told participants at OCHIN and Oregon Medical Association’s annual symposium his “personal health tragicomedy.” It began in 1989 when he was 19, training for a marathon and a student at the University of North Carolina. Fainting spells turned into a diagnosis of kidney cancer – and a prognosis of one year to live.

His doctors argued over whether his cancer was the type that usually affects “kids or coots,” and he learned how the system wants to put all patients into a single box that determines the course of their medical journey forever.

“Egos and emotions matter,” Dishman found, with doctors thinking of him as “an article or two,” and starting him on what turned into 17 rounds of chemotherapy and a painkilling regime sending him on his way to “becoming an addict.”

After tracking his pain, Dishman found a physical therapist willing to work with him to avoid painkillers, and insisted on getting low doses of chemotherapy at home rather than the then-standard practice of “wiping out my immune system, then putting me in the worst place, other than a Toys R Us or public libraries – the hospital.”

Eventually, Dishman was in full kidney failure, resisting dialysis because it would have ruled out drugs to fight his cancer, and working at Intel where one of its clients was involved in genomic research.

A genome sequence relayed that 92 percent of the drugs he’d been taking had made no measurable difference, and his doctors told him that 27 different diagnostic codes were wrong, and “we mistreated you for two decades.”

In time, Dishman became cancer free.  Then an Intel coworker donated a kidney. “Transforming ourselves is the real reform. We need to be transforming our roles.  Technology will follow.  And this is from a guy who works for a tech company.”

The epilogue to his tragicomedy comes from working with healthcare reformers in more than 20 countries and his interest in home health since he helped care for his grandmother with Alzheimer's starting at age 16.

Global aging is driving healthcare and health worker shortages, Dishman said, and by 2017, the world will have more people over age 65 than any time in history.

In the future, he predicted that teams of professionals, volunteers and family members will become health providers, with a shift away from hospitals as the “mainframe” of healthcare.

Japan, China and European countries have older populations than the U.S. and have embraced “gray tech” as a way to innovate and lead.  “Learn from those who are doing it,” Dishman advised.  “Pick one innovation and be at the forefront.”

Jan can be reached at [email protected]

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Genetic sequencing and tumor markers are costly. Who should pay, Mr. Dishman for this big data? While I am sorry that Mr. Dishman has suffered from medical conditions his adult life, his claims about genomic medicine are, well... just that.  

Daniel F. Hayes of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center advocates for better industry oversight for tumor biomarker tests and the need to know whether a particular biomarker is significant clinically--whether to give or withhold a particular treatment. Few tests have demonstrated both analytical and clinical utility, he says.