Jeffrey Galpin, MD
(Internist, Infectious Disease Specialist)
3.7 – Aliens, Plagues, & Epidemics (9.8.11)
Dr. Galpin enjoys solving mysteries, which is what drew him to diagnostic medicine. His diagnostic and therapeutic infectious disease practice covers a wide range of afflictions, from inflamation of the bowel to alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Galpin is an experienced clinician/researcher with Board Certification in Infectious Disease and Internal Medicine. He also trained in molecular biology and immunology through an NIH Fellowship and work performed at the Molecular Biology Center at the University of California Irvine. Dr. Galpin
Dr. Galpin has helped to create several biotech companies, has been Principal Investigator on several of the key therapeutic modalities used today in HIV/AIDS, and holds patents in several of the applications for the use of immunomodulatory peptides in the treatment of human diseases. He was also PI for the first gene therapy ever approved for study in man by the prestigious NIH DNA Advisory Board. 
Dr. Jeff Galpin is an expert on epidemics. He almost died from one, and now he’s out to save people from another.
It was the early 1950s, the disease was polio and Galpin’s doctor warned that he might not make it to the next morning. But Galpin has seen a lot of sunrises since then, and he’d like to see the sun set on AIDS.
Today, Galpin is a paid field investigator for a federally approved experiment aimed at interrupting the growth of the deadly virus. He believes an eventual cure is possible. He should believe it. Everything else has been possible in his life.
Sponsored by Viagene, a San Diego biotechnology firm, the gene therapy program is based on the idea that an AIDS patient’s immune system can be reactivated and actually strengthened if he or she is injected with the virus’s own genetic material.
The genes are culled from an HIV strain at Viagene’s labs, and every few weeks, internist Galpin metes out the would-be booster shots in his Tarzana office to a pool of 27 volunteers. If Viagene’s theory works, patients’ bodies will be given more ammunition, or killer cells, to track down infected cells.
The first phase of the study, Galpin says, took more than a year and determined that the procedure is safe–no patients suffered side effects.
Now it is time to see if the treatment can prolong their lives, though Galpin still isn’t rushing things.
“Up till now, no genetically engineered material has been allowed into the body,” he says. “That is why the amount of safety precautions, blood work and test work on each patient is enormous.” The FDA, he said, has allowed Viagene to test the procedure for research, though approval for commercial use could be years away.
This generation’s epidemic isn’t much different from the one that attacked Galpin. He, too, learned to live like a pariah. The paranoia over polio, in fact, was so extensive that his toys in the hospital were burned for fear of contamination.
Galpin says his struggle gave him empathy, and his patients believe him.
“He understands what it is to be different,” says Michael O’Keefe, a Palm Desert resident who was found to be HIV-positive nine years ago. “A lot of doctors, especially AIDS doctors, are not concerned about the person. He cares how I feel. He’s compassionate.”
Or as John Booker, another HIV patient, says: “You know that he knows you don’t feel good. He’s gone through the same thing. I had a flare-up with my sinuses lately, and he had the same thing. It’s comforting to know your doctor understands.”
Galpin doesn’t talk down to his patients. He doesn’t treat them differently because they are living on borrowed time. He says we’re all living on borrowed time.
He believes a lot of doctors become too protective. “They maximize the disease instead of minimizing it,” he says. “They create the worst possible scenario. I want people to be in control, to understand that life goes on, that they should do as much, or more. They should look into a future even if there is no future.”
He is positive, yet no Pollyanna. “I may not save them, but I’ll help them die better, or live better, and that’s important.”
Even today, the effects of Galpin’s battle with polio are evident. He uses crutches to get around the office. His body, especially when he’s not working out, becomes particularly vulnerable to injury. Although he has been spared the debilitating post-polio syndrome now surfacing in many survivors, pain is a frequent companion.
He’s not worried about dying, but he is scared to death of growing more frail than he already is.
Galpin just turned 50, and sometimes feels like 100. He falls often and has broken many bones. When he gets sick, he becomes concerned about his breathing, which isn’t very smooth to begin with.
“My biggest fear has always been that I would become dependent on other people,” Galpin says. “Could I remain my own person? The fears I have now are that I’m having such a good time, I’d hate to be more immobilized. I have too much to do. I have lots of things to do before I’m finished.”
Pain, for him, is “my Olympics,” another game to conquer, another opportunity to prove that his fertile mind remains more powerful than his flawed body. “In being weaker physically,” he says, “I have to prove I’m tougher mentally. That doesn’t make it right. It’s not what I recommend to my patients.”
When, as an 8-year-old growing up on the North Side of Chicago, he became a prisoner of polio and realized he would never play baseball for the Cubs, Galpin had two choices: surrender or survival.
He chose survival. He went about it by erecting a fantasy world that couldn’t be compromised by physical limitations. His body was a bust, but his mind burst with activity.
“I could escape into some other place,” Galpin says. “I made my rocking bed into a roller coaster, my iron lung into a rocket ship, and it all didn’t seem as scary that way.”
He always came back to the real world though, spending years in rehab to give him as much mobility as possible. He decided he would have a normal life, and that included sports.
Wheelchair basketball, wheelchair football, wheelchair anything–Galpin was game. If he couldn’t be a Cub, then he’d be a stud among his peers, whoever they were. He won all kinds of titles at the University of Illinois, but his greatest athletic achievement was winning a table tennis tournament against people with no disabilities.
“The other stuff was great, but it wasn’t like beating the normal kids,” he says.
He became such a jock, in fact, that he was put on academic probation for a semester.
Then he decided he’d go to medical school.
“No one thought I was in the right mind,” Galpin recalls. “They had never accepted a severely handicapped medical student in the Big Ten.”
These days, his life is as normal as he could have ever expected. He lives with his second wife and their 2-year-old son in a big house in exclusive Hidden Hills.
“I wouldn’t give it all up to start over again,” Galpin says. “I’ve been very lucky to get to where I am.”
When he isn’t working, he knows how to play. He goes to countless Dodgers and Kings games.
He also likes to write. Among his finished projects are a science fiction novel and a semi-autobiographical project. Neither has been published, but he isn’t giving up. No big surprise, huh?
But most of all, Galpin is a detective tracking down a killer, and it’s not just because it’s his job. It’s no accident he went into immunology.
Jeff Galpin, the doctor, is determined to do what Jeff Galpin, the child, couldn’t. He was helpless then. He’s not helpless now.
“Now I have the tools to play the game.”