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A fast diagnosis saves a life


Phil Lipof's story

When Boston newscaster Phil Lipof had a life-threatening drug reaction, a cross-specialty team raced to save his life.
The simplest way to put it is that I almost died. It’s crazy to think about: I go to the gym six times a week, I am as healthy as an ox and superman to my kids, but I almost died.

In August 2014, I started taking antibiotics for a staph infection on my elbow. After a few days, the swelling started to go down and I was feeling better until I spiked a 104-degree fever. As a television anchor, the show must go on, so I kept working and continued taking the antibiotics. When the fever didn’t go down, I visited the ER and was sent home after receiving fluids. 

I stayed home for two days before a rash broke out on my entire body. My wife took me to the ER, where they recognized I was having a severe allergic reaction. I was admitted to the hospital with dangerously low blood pressure, swelling kidneys, and an injured liver. I don’t remember that night, but I’m told the doctors knew making the correct diagnosis was critical. They called in dermatologist and internist Steven Chen, MD.

Dr. Chen diagnosed me with DRESS (Drug Rash with Eosinophilia and Systemic Symptoms), a rare and often fatal condition where your body reacts adversely to medications. He prescribed a strong steroid which quickly reduced my symptoms. But my liver was dangerously near failure, so I remained in the hospital for several days. 

I was so frail, weak, and terrified—what would my wife and children do without me? But Dr. Chen and the other clinicians reassured us. They knew what was happening to me and were working together to get me well. 

I was in the hospital for eight days, and it took months before I was completely healed, but Dr. Chen ultimately saved my liver and my life. Dr. Chen’s extraordinary empathy and honesty brought my family peace of mind when we were at our lowest. I remain forever grateful and am now back under the lights reporting news to the people of Boston.

The dermatologist's perspective

“DRESS is a difficult condition to diagnose, with severe consequences for getting it wrong. I am glad to have been part of the cross-specialty care team that treated Phil. Participating in his care from the beginning allowed me to make a quick diagnosis and start treatment right away. When it comes to complex cases like this, the sooner dermatologists are involved, the better we can serve patients and potentially save lives. ”

─ Steven T. Chen, MD, MPH, FAAD, Dermatologist and Internist Massachusetts General Hospital Assistant Professor of Dermatology, Harvard Medical School

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