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Surprise diagnoses have a way of making Ph.D. candidates out of everyday people.

Walter Feigenson’s education began in 2007, at age 59, when he was wrongly diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Then came carpal tunnel syndrome, which doctors chalked up to his years in front of a keyboard. In 2010 it was a ruptured bicep tendon, and in 2015 a case of a spinal condition called lumbar stenosis. It wasn’t until 2018, when “dumb luck” landed Feigenson in front of a specialist at Oregon Health and Science University, that someone connected the dots between his disparate symptoms: He had a progressive disease that was destroying his heart.

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