Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Paul Kalanithi, writer and neurosurgeon, dies at 37 (stanford.edu)
360 points by milkcircle on Mar 13, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments



Paul was a close friend of mine, and we worked together on his research during his neurosurgery residency at Stanford. He was a hell of a human being, brilliant, dedicated, creative, refreshingly optimistic, and selfless. Before he was diagnosed, I'd planned to postdoc with him when he was considering starting a functional neurosurgery lab (actively manipulating the nervous system to achieve therapeutic benefit, with deep brain stimulation being the most successful example).

This piece he wrote shortly before he died is well worth your time. http://stanmed.stanford.edu/2015spring/before-i-go.html


"Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described, hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed."

indeed... so perfect... great piece, thanks for sharing...


That piece just hit my inbox 30 minutes ago independent of the HN submission. It's beautifully and poignantly written and subtly yet deeply moving.

It saddens me immensely that we have lost such a talented, tremendous person so early.


I had a teacher pass away in high school. He had young kids. All his students ended up writing a book about how he'd been, what kind of guy he was. I think it's therapeutic for people who remember him and quite valuable for his children.


I'm envious of your relationship. I'm shocked that he's only 37 as his eloquence and wisdom -- from these simple videos and articles -- seemingly command attention in a way that I rarely see.


That article was powerful, what an incredible writer and an amazingly talented person.

The world is a darker place without bright lights like that guy.


My condolences to you. This is a great loss. I wish you peace and closure.


I'd love for HN to have the option to comment anonymously on moments like these.

That's way too young.

I find as I slowly get older that more and more people that I know or know about have passed, this is a constant reminder to me to get out of bed each day and to use the time as good as I can, and somehow when announcements like these hit they rub in much harder than anything else could that I'm failing in this respect.

So young and such an impressive list of achievements, and by reading the words linked from other comments here such a gentle and nice person.

My dad told me he measured his age by how often he had to wear black, at 37 the meaning of that had not yet set in, but every year it gets a little bit more clear, and whenever someone younger than me dies it hits much harder than when someone older dies.

This man had more potential for the remainder and has achieved more at 37 than I'll probably manage in my lifetime even though I am already much older and (probably, hopefully) still have quite a few years in front of me.


You can always make a throwaway account. Why do you feel the need to comment anonymously on this?


Sometimes it easier to be anonymous when trying to talk about something extremely personal.


How is a one-time pseudonym any different than being anonymous?

Unless you mean a 4chan-style "Anon" checkbox for ease of use?


I also shared preciously short period of time in the same lab with Paul. He was an incredible human - unparalleled in medicine and research and a bright and wonderful personality. An event like this puts into perspective how important individual people are within the research community, and we'll feel this loss for a long time.

Another piece he wrote recently which adds valuable perspective on what it's like to be diagnosed with a serious illness:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/25/opinion/sunday/how-long-ha...


As the OP and others have linked: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/25/opinion/sunday/how-long-ha...

I'm not far from Dr. Kalanthi's age. I wish I could be as 1/10th as reflective and eloquent as he is in facing an untimely death just as his hard work and studies were paying off:

> For a few months, I’d suspected I had cancer. I had seen a lot of young patients with cancer. So I wasn’t taken aback. In fact, there was a certain relief. The next steps were clear: Prepare to die. Cry. Tell my wife that she should remarry, and refinance the mortgage. Write overdue letters to dear friends. Yes, there were lots of things I had meant to do in life, but sometimes this happens: Nothing could be more obvious when your day’s work includes treating head trauma and brain cancer.


I might sound silly, but the fact that I'm 37 years old caused a a strange feeling after reading this.


Nothing silly about it. It's a very stark reminder that death doesn't just take the old, or the chronically infirm, or the careless. Sometimes it's very swift, subtle, and brutal.

We could easily be diagnosed with something tomorrow and be dead within two years, and probably nothing can save us.

While it's true that you could easily be killed tomorrow in a car accident, I think many of us really believe that we have more agency when it comes to accidental death. That we're the savvy pedestrian, the defensive driver who won't be a statistic. We're smart and quick enough to make the right decision when it comes to car accidents.

But things like aggressive lung cancer? You're probably a goner, and no amount of intelligence or quick reaction can save you. And we know that.

It's a very disempowering feeling.


It's not silly at all. I'm 38, a friend of mine died almost six months ago (he was 37). I still haven't really parsed the permanence of it, or the fact that half a year has passed already; even as I stood beside his grave last weekend. It does feel very strange - indeed I don't have the words to describe it any other way.


I think that's a credit to your character to have that awareness ;-).


Indeed, I'm 36 and have a little baby daughter (3.5 months), the article opens your eyes and make you aware of what you have makes you fill small and fragile, in a good way.


> Paul Kalanithi said his daughter, Cady, filled him with "a joy unknown to me in all my prior years." He passed away on March 9.

I hope his daughter comes to understand how much comfort it must have brought him to have known her.


I remember reading Paul's original piece in the NY Times last year; a touching piece on how at any given moment, everything can fall apart. A few weeks ago, his latest beautifully written piece in Stanford Medicine Magazine came out along with a moving video about his painful journey with this cancer. He had setbacks during his latest round of chemo but he pulled through and it seemed that things were at the very least, maintainable especially given the severity of this cancer.

It was indeed a rude awakening a few days ago to find out via Twitter how Dr. Kalanithi had passed away. It seemed sudden, in your face, powerful, painful and relentless especially related to a man I have never met.

It shows you that disease, life, and ultimately death does not discriminate against anyone and can hit at anytime - even those who work day in and day out to heel others. It shows how precious, fragile and relentless life truly is, how lucky we are to be here, commenting on the latest Macbook or tinkering away at our projects. The world and time, like Paul said, doesn't stop for anyone, it just keeps going. And it's best to go with it and try to make the most out of what you're given.

If one can learn anything from his journey, and his eloquent writings, it is that we must always move forward at a constant rate and be grateful for each day, pursue it intelligently, happily and full of energy.

Our time is limited and when you see such a tragic case of life (and death) unfold before you, for many via the Internet - you stop for a second and think - but hopefully, only for that second as time just keeps ticking away.


Things like these shouldn't happen. I strongly believe that we have the resources and the knowledge to safe many people lives. It is tragedy that many of us willingly let those resources be wasted, by whatever plan politicians elected by us come up with.

This may sound like cliche but I believe it is truth

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.(Edmund Burke)

Question is what can we do to improve it?

Things like easiest things to do is spend some money on organization supporting research, helping those in need in general.

Help research by joining folding@home, rosetta@home or other distributed computing project.

Spend some time helping in some charity.

This is a little but it might help to safe life someone you know. I am curious if there is some other plan for this.


His widow was my primary care physician for years. I was sad to lose her (she left Kaiser for Stanford) and I'm now sad to hear that she's lost her husband.

My best to you, Dr. Kalanithi.


This is really quite sad. When you are around that age you don't really think about those things.

Truly though, article and content posting like this are what make HN such a great place. I would have never seen this had I not read this site. Thank you for posting it mikecircle.


RIP. The photo with his daughter is heartbreaking.


That's also the kind of article/news I come to HN for.


You do not know this, but you have made me introspective. There are some things I will be and am improving upon because of you.

Rest well, Paul.


Incredibly moving. For some reason, watching the video and listening to his voice gave me peace. RIP.


This is incredibly sad yet incredibly inspiring - I wish I could have known him. Dr Paul Kalanithi's story resonates with me very similarly to Randy Pausch and his journey/battle through pancreatic cancer - the swell of emotions that I felt when I heard about his passing. It's painful to see these people who have so much youth, intelligence, intellect and eloquence, have the misfortune of getting dealt a bad hand. This type of person is rare, if you are lucky, you've had the honor and privilege of crossing paths with them at one point or another, and it has changed you for the better. Hopefully through their passing, we can all strive to be more like them and what they stood for.


Wow. What an amazing individual. And what a terrible tragedy and loss for humanity that he didn't get a full life.

After reading his writing I am very saddened to hear that he never got to write his book - he is an amazing writer and thinker. (http://stanmed.stanford.edu/2015spring/before-i-go.html and http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/25/opinion/sunday/how-long-ha...)


I grieve for Paul's passing but also for Cady's loss.

To lose a father at that age... the picture is truly heart breaking


So sad to hear this. When people younger than you start leaving the mortal coil, you can only wake up with thanksgiving in your heart that you have another day to affect change. Truly, every day is a gift.


RIP Dr Paul Kalanithi.

Thank you for the post & all those who upvoted a great human being.


There is no past or present Govinda. Everything has reality and presence. - Siddhartha (Herman Hease)




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: