For the 'better': Life takes a decidedly different turn for former law school dean


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Frank Wu, former dean of Wayne State University Law School, is a prolific writer, whether in long or short form.

He has written “Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White,” a critically acclaimed book that received positive reviews from a number of notable publications, including The Chicago Tribune.

His writings also have appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Baltimore Sun, and The Detroit Free Press, forums where he has ruminated on a variety of legal and educational topics.

But last year, in a column appearing in the Daily Journal, a California legal publication, Wu turned to a more personal topic – his health.

The column was titled, “Illness Can Make You a Better Person,” and offered a first-hand account of his battle with Pemphigus Vulgaris, a rare autoimmune disease that reportedly kills 75 percent of those affected within two years of diagnosis. It is a sobering subject, to say the least.

“I was alarmed when I was bleeding through the night, through a T-shirt, pajamas, and the top sheet of the bed,” Wu wrote in the column.

Equally disturbing, he said, was the fact that “my scalp was coated with a slick pus that dried into a hard helmet of crust,” a malady that perplexed his physicians.

“I did not have a proper diagnosis for months,” Wu wrote in the Daily Journal. “I was trying to tough it out and my malady is obscure enough that the specialists explained you cannot blame a general practitioner for failing to recognize it. The initial guess was spider bites.”

But it proved much more serious than that, said Wu, now a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law, where he previously served as dean.

A biopsy detected a “potentially life-threatening condition” that required Wu to immediately shelve everything on his busy academic schedule.
“The leakage on my scalp, it turns out, was plasma without the blood cells,” he explained.

But, the “best news,” said Wu, was word of a “breakthrough” in treating the disease, a new chemotherapy agent approved only three weeks before he visited with medical experts at the University of California at San Francisco.

“It has a slightly greater than 50 percent success rate,” Wu said.

While Wu was facing an uncertain medical future, his wife, Carol Izumi, a law professor, also was experiencing her own set of health challenges, which began years earlier when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. To add to her medical woes, Izumi needed spinal cord surgery in 2018, an operation that proved to be just “two-thirds successful,” according to Wu.

“The surgery was fine, but the bones haven’t come together properly, so she cannot turn her neck,” Wu related, noting that she has taken early retirement because of her ongoing health issues.

As for himself, Wu said his serious health situation has given him a different perspective on life.

“At the infusion center, I could see how grateful I ought to be,” Wu wrote. “I walked in. I walked out. I went by myself, because my wife was still indisposed from her own issues. Although it is a real chemotherapy, requiring a day in the hospital for each session, my dosage is relatively low.”

While receiving treatment, Wu crossed paths with a friend.

“A colleague from work saw me; she was accompanying a friend,” Wu said. “When I saw her again, I asked about the friend – she had passed away.”

Dean of Wayne State University Law School from 2004-08, Wu and his wife lived in the Lafayette Park development during their years in Detroit. Lafayette Park, said Wu, is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s “largest residential project,” featuring two 21-story apartment towers, 162 townhouses, and 24 courtyard homes. Wu and his wife owned one of the courtyard houses, which was restored to glory under Izumi’s direction.   

“To my shock, I saw prices there have appreciated 100 percent, and our very unit was featured in The Detroit News as an architecturally distinguished building,” said Wu. “The credit goes not only to Mies van der Rohe, but also my wife, who oversaw the perfect renovation.”
Wu admits that he misses Detroit and will always consider himself a “Detroiter.”

Said Wu: “We just watched that ‘Ford v. Ferrari’ movie. It was moving. I hope to run the half-marathon across the Ambassador Bridge. There is so much excitement in the city now.”

Such a feeling can be matched by how Wu looks at life now.

“I have realized what others before me have: Illness can make you a better person,” he wrote. “Law – the study, the teaching, the practice, and the application – can and should be rational. Those of us trained in it, however, have had our empathy if not eliminated, then decreased.

“We do not notice our privileges. Paramount among them is health. If we lose what we have enjoyed, even taken for granted, we should appreciate what remains, which those around us may always have been and still be denied. I have been inspired. I understand what matters.”


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