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Outside the Lab Profession, Training and education

Come on Pathology, Light My Fire

When pathologist Michael Misialek purchased a painting by Robby Krieger, lead guitarist of The Doors, he auctioned it off to raise money for a pathology charity. Now, Misialek hopes that similar collaborations will raise crucial funds and put pathology in the limelight.

In 1967, legendary US rock band The Doors released their most famous – and possibly popular – single. The spark for the song came when Robby Krieger, the band’s guitarist, asked lead singer Jim Morrison what he should write about, to which Morrison replied, “Something universal that won't disappear two years from now.” Krieger decided to focus on one of the elements of nature. The resulting song – “Light My Fire” – spent three weeks at the top of the US Billboard Hot 100. Over 50 years later, it’s safe to say the hit single has stood the test of time; just last year, the Recording Industry Association of America certified it as platinum with over 2,000,000 copies sold.

What does the story of a timeless rock song have to do with pathology? Recently, Michael Misialek, Associate Chair of Pathology at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Massachusetts, discovered that Krieger is an active philanthropist – and that gave him a brilliant idea. “As a band I enjoy listening to, I was interested to learn what the surviving members of The Doors – Robby Krieger and John Densmore – were up to today,” says Misialek. “A simple online search told me that Krieger still performs around the country and that he regularly participates in fundraising events, especially for public health projects.”

The unknown philanthropist

Because Misialek is passionate about the work of the CAP Foundation – a charitable division of the College of American Pathologists (CAP) – he was inspired to reach out to Krieger in the hope of forming an unusual collaboration. “I noticed that Krieger enjoys painting; many of his works are influenced by, or named after, songs by The Doors,” explains Misialek. “I made an inquiry through his website, suggesting to him that I could buy one of his limited-edition prints and put it up for auction to see how much money we could raise for the CAP Foundation.” Not only did Krieger respond, but he was also extremely enthusiastic about the idea and invited Misialek to his Los Angeles studio so that they could sit down together, discuss the collaboration, and film a short interview.

When they met at the studio in LA earlier this year, the pair talked about art, The Doors, and the visibility of pathology to the public (see the full interview at tp.txp.to/RobbyKriegerInterview). Misialek received a tour of the studio and was even treated to a few chords on the guitar. “He’s a really down-to-earth guy whom you’d never realize is a talented rock superstar!” While they were together, Misialek purchased a signed print of Light My Fire, a painting Krieger produced to depict The Doors’ hit single (see image).

“Light My Fire,” a print by Robby Krieger.
Based on estimated test costs, the money raised by the artwork paid for 60 women to receive a Pap smear.

Ordinarily, anyone can purchase Krieger’s artwork – and the proceeds are split between his own music charity, which funds local schools to encourage young people to play instruments and join bands, and a charity of the purchaser’s choice. But Misialek told Krieger to take the entire fee for his own charity, then auctioned the piece online. It sold for just over US$2,000 – all of which went to the CAP Foundation to support cervical cancer screening in underserved women across the US. “I decided to donate the money to the See, Test, and Treat program run by the CAP Foundation,” Misialek explains. “They run free health fair-style events around the country, at which women receive a Pap smear test and a mammogram to screen for breast cancer, before a pathologist reviews the cervical cells – all in the same day.” Thanks to the pathologists, radiologists, and gynecologists who donate their time and the vendors who donate supplies, the sessions bring together diagnostic professionals to ensure that every woman receives these vital health checks. Based on estimated test costs, the money raised by the artwork paid for 60 women to receive a Pap smear at one of these events.

Misialek’s ultimate ambition is to build momentum around the campaign and inspire others to follow suit. “This kind of project isn’t unique to the CAP Foundation; I chose them because I used to be part of the charity and it’s something that I’m passionate about. I wanted to see what kind of response I could get and use it as a platform to encourage others to pursue their own unique collaborations or form new relationships with charitable organizations.” Neither is Misialek’s idea exclusive to the US. The Doors have international appeal, especially across Europe and Asia, and a plethora of societies and colleges could benefit from funds generated by artwork.

Pathologists aren’t strange

As well as raising valuable funds for a worthy cause, Misialek hopes his actions help to highlight pathologists, educating the public about their presence and the crucial work they do. “The general movement of the field at the moment is to bring pathologists into the limelight as visible members of the healthcare team,” he says. “This is a great vehicle to do just that, because The Doors still have an incredibly large following, many of whom probably don’t know what pathology is.”

It came as a surprise to Misialek when, during their time together in LA, Krieger opened up about his own health and revealed an already comprehensive understanding of pathology. After finding a lung lesion, Krieger’s pathologist diagnosed it as metastatic melanoma despite the absence of a skin lesion and no history of the disease. “He understood all about the pathologist’s role, how we arrive at a diagnosis, and why immunotherapy can be so effective,” Misialek explains. Thanks to successful treatment, Krieger went into remission and is now back to touring the US, collaborating with other artists, and working on soundtracks for movies.

The younger generation generally feels more comfortable promoting themselves and their field to the public, legislators, and the press.

Misialek believes that this personal connection – and others like it – can be harnessed to underline the importance of the field. “We have a lot of work to do in terms of spreading awareness about pathology and increasing its exposure to the wider public. Headway has definitely been made, though – and the number of pathologists who are engaged and outspoken has increased over the past few years.” This, he says, has resulted in a surge in social media use and an increase in the number of pathologists who are actively involved in the healthcare team. “Although there is still work to be done, the younger generation generally feels more comfortable promoting themselves and their field to the public, legislators, and the press.”

But what impact does Misialek think his own creative and charitable idea can have on others? “I hope that more pathologists will be inspired to seek opportunities that give them a visible platform, not just within their institution, but also to the public,” he says. “This includes speaking at health fairs or to community groups, going into schools to educate children about diagnostic medicine, and inviting people for hospital tours so that they can appreciate the interesting challenges we face every day.” Ultimately, Misialek hopes to cement pathology on the healthcare map to ensure that administrators and colleagues recognize pathologists and involve them in important decision-making.

Breaking on through

As for the future of the current collaboration, will it be a case of “Love Me Two Times” or “The End?” Misialek remains passionate about the potential to champion pathology alongside Krieger through his considerable following with The Doors. “I’d really like to continue to promote this project to bring the field into the public eye – and even show people that pathologists can be cool and talk to rock stars!” He recognizes the potential branding that could result from such partnerships, suggesting “Pathologists Rock” and “Light My Fire” as titles for his current endeavor.

The sky is the limit and it’s fantastic to think that you can just reach out to influential people, pitch an idea, and see where it takes you!

“One of my biggest hopes is that somebody will read my story and dream up their own novel idea of how to raise awareness,” explains Misialek. “The sky is the limit and it’s fantastic to think that you can just reach out to influential people, pitch an idea, and see where it takes you! I reached out to Robby Krieger on a whim, but it turned out he had experienced his own health battles and knew all about the work of pathologists. There was a story there waiting to be told... and there are plenty of other untold stories out there ready to be unearthed and leveraged for everyone’s advantage.”

Since buying and auctioning Light My Fire to raise money for the CAP Foundation, Misialek has made the trip back to LA to go backstage at one of Krieger’s concerts. Held at Whiskey A Go Go on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, this was a particular honor for Misialek – not least because it was the venue where The Doors got their first break in 1966. “I had always enjoyed their music growing up and it was an amazing experience to hear some of it live!” At the concert, the duo agreed to take their collaboration to the next level. “Our second endeavor will be to partner with Gibson, who will provide a guitar that Krieger will sign and play before we auction it off. We hope this generates high demand – and the proceeds will be entirely donated to a pathology-related charity of the winner’s choice!” says Misialek.

With the opportunity to secure a one-of-a-kind prize and provide valuable funds for a worthy cause, the guitar is likely to prove extremely popular. But it’s not the only good idea out there – so if you have a novel idea to raise funds or awareness, don’t hesitate. You may just land on a winner!

Michael Misialek is Associate Chair of Pathology and Medical Director of the Vernon Cancer Center at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Massachusetts, USA.

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About the Author

Luke Turner

While completing my undergraduate degree in Biology, I soon discovered that my passion and strength was for writing about science rather than working in the lab. My master’s degree in Science Communication allowed me to develop my science writing skills and I was lucky enough to come to Texere Publishing straight from University. Here I am given the opportunity to write about cutting edge research and engage with leading scientists, while also being part of a fantastic team!

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