Don Quixote in Newark

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"Don Quixote in Newark" tells the inspiring story of James Oleske, the New Jersey pediatrician who identified HIV/AIDS in children. His scientific breakthrough, the outcome of dedicated work in an underfunded community hospital, changed the profile of AIDS forever and was instrumental in the discovery of the HIV virus. At the same time, his remarkable work spearheaded new forms of patient care.

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About the Show

Today, America and the world confront an unprecedented pandemic, one that has left us in an uncertain and frightening new world. The poor and the marginalized have been disproportionately affected. They are being hospitalized and dying in frightening numbers. It is an eerie echo of an earlier moment in our history, when AIDS first erupted.

Then, as now, among those most severely affected were America’s poor minority communities. Unlike today, however, HIV/AIDS had an enormous impact on minority children. Though much of the medical community shied away from the crisis early on, one man met the moment with brilliance and compassion: Dr. James Oleske.

Oleske, then a young immunologist and infectious disease specialist in Newark, was an unlikely hero. As a child he was kicked out of Catholic School and nearly flunked out of college. He was admitted to medical school purely by mistake.

Never a man to find an easy path through life, Oleske’s stubborn independence paid off in confronting the greatest plague of the 20th century.

In the early 1980s, Oleske began to see babies in Newark that he insisted were getting the still new and unknown disease appearing in gay men and drug users. Almost every established authority in the field told him that it was medically impossible. His mentor thought he was crazy; the press labeled him an alarmist and an incompetent. Yet, Dr. Oleske’s refusal to back down led to his discovery of HIV/AIDS in children and his leading role in combatting childhood AIDS in America and the world.

"Don Quixote in Newark" is his story and the story of the all-but forgotten childhood AIDS epidemic in America. It is one with new relevance in the midst of our present moment.

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