Dr. Luke Messac thought it was going to be like every other Tweet he sent.
Messac, of Warwick, had just a few hundred followers as recently as July 16, and he took the opportunity to send out a screenshot of a 13-year-old email response from National Institute of Health Director Dr. Anthony Fauci. According to the Tweet, Messac said he had emailed Fauci “out of the blue” to inquire if he could interview him for his Harvard undergrad thesis.
“He invited me to his office, where he answered all my questions,” Messac wrote in his Tweet, providing a copy of Fauci’s “overly effusive” response. “When I sent him my thesis, HE READ THE WHOLE THING…Who does that!?”
Fauci did more than laud the thesis, too, as he said he was going to discuss some of the ideas Messac laid out with President George W. Bush “the next time we discuss HIV/AIDS.”
“You masterfully developed that compelling concept of reframing of critical issues for gatekeepers by elite advocates,” Fauci wrote. “You also gave considerable credibility to your conclusions by admitting that economic interests and national security certainly played some role in the transformation of USA policy toward global AIDS, but it was not the primary consideration.”
Messac’s post earned more than 51,000 retweets and 431,000 likes, to go with more than 5,000 replies. The public reaction inundated him and his phone, which he said kept rebooting as he was forced to turn off his Twitter notifications. He’s also now up to more than 18,000 followers.
“I usually just post stuff about Rhode Island, about some of my work in global health,” Messac said. “I just expected it to be like the rest of my tweets where it a couple of my friends like it, so I was really shocked when it seemed to take off. I still don’t quite know what that all means, but I think people are looking for something to smile about. People are looking for reasons to have faith in humanity in this tough time, and knowing that someone like him would do something like that for someone like me, I think that strikes a chord and I’m glad to see it.”
Messac was inspired to share their correspondence not only because Fauci has been in the news for his work battling the coronavirus pandemic, but because he is widely respected in the medical field. He edits one of the major internal medicine textbooks and has been integral in fights against AIDS and Ebola.
While Messac said he hasn’t been staying up to date on President Donald Trump’s reported frustration with Fauci and attempts to discredit him, he said the country needs “all the people we can in this fight, and we definitely need him.”
“We look up to him a lot,” Messac said. “I thought I had a good story that told a little bit about who he is and what kind of guy he is and what he stands for. I got the email he sent me, and I thought it could be a fun tweet. I didn’t realize that everyone would be sharing but I’m glad folks have a little bit better sense of who he is, if that helps.”
He added: “I can’t think of a person we need more at this moment, so I do hope he continues to help lead us in this.”
He said Fauci is “really down to earth” and that he’s “always looking out for you,” as evidenced by his willingness to meet with then-21-year-old Messac to provide guidance and offer feedback at a later date via email.
It still came as a surprise when Fauci said he read the entire thesis, and that the president would potentially hear some of Messac’s concepts.
“He’s always encouraging you. So when I was interviewing him, he was very open and willing to answer all my questions and take all the time needed,” Messac said. “It meant a ton, it meant so much to hear that from him. I ended up going on to do a Ph.D. in history and got my medical degree and now I’m a resident at Rhode Island Hospital, but I still carry that with me.”
On the Rhode Island side of the pandemic, Messac said he is grateful that the state has kept cases and hospitalizations down for the most part, but “we still lost too many people and we still have too many infections.”
The disease has affected him personally, too, as his grandfather and his dad’s best friend both died from the virus.
“I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. I just really hope we all continue to take it real seriously, and that we’re there for each other,” Messac said. “I imagine a lot of people have stories like that. A lot of people have lost people, so we can all do our part and try to keep the rest of us safe.”
Messac said he isn’t ready to call himself a mentor just yet – and he’s more than occupied on the frontlines at Rhode Island Hospital – but he said he will do his best to live up to Fauci’s standards.
If Fauci wasn’t too busy for him, he said, he has no excuse.
“If you do not mind, I would like to quote some of your ideas with proper attribution if the opportunity arises … I could go on and on about the merits of this treatise,” Fauci wrote in closing. “Suffice it to say that if I were grading the thesis, I would give it a summa cum laude maximus. Good luck in what I know will be a highly successful career.”
“Best regards, Tony.”