Med Student Recalls Being Kidnapped and Thrown Into a Trunk


August 13, 2019

The kidnap/trunk episode was only one of many harrowing experiences that Saffran endured.

Saffran's life is very different now. He is a fourth-year medical student in the 6-year MD-PhD program at Weill Cornell Medicine; he went through 2 years of training at WCM, and is now training at The Rockefeller University, where he will get his PhD, and will then come back to WCM to get his MD degree from there.

But Saffran didn't leave police work because of the danger. For most of his life, he never thought he was smart enough to get an advanced education, but an unexpected situation changed that belief.

Saffran had gotten divorced and had custody of his daughter. To care for her, he worked the night shift, got home at 7 AM, took her to school, got 2 or 3 hours of sleep, picked her up, spent time with her until he put her to bed, and then went straight to work. The schedule was beyond brutal, and he knew he needed a change.

"It was getting increasingly difficult to be the father I wanted to be, and to be the cop I wanted to be," he said. So he started a private investigation agency, which allowed him to be more in control of his hours.

A Realization Triggered a New Direction

Saffran's daughter Alorah, who was struggling in school, was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). After teachers worked with her, she started doing well in academics.

That sparked some "detective" thinking for Saffran. "I had never done well in school and I grew up thinking I was stupid," he said. "When I was young, someone had said I had ADHD, but in those days and in my circumstances, it was never addressed or dealt with."

"When I saw how my daughter improved with help, I started to think, possibly I'm not as dumb as I think I am. And maybe I could go back to school and pursue stuff that I had dreamed about as a kid — but at that time was a lunatic idea — like being a doctor or a scientist.

"I enrolled in Rockland (New York) Community College as a kind of hypothesis testing, 'Can I do this?'" said Saffran. He did so well that by the end of his first year, he was accepted at Columbia University, where he majored in molecular biophysics, and ultimately at Weill Cornell.

Saffran found several parallels between medical school and undercover police work.

"I think if you put me in the context of other people who have gone into medical school or an MBA or PhD programs, the common factor is that we all want to help people and kind of change the world and make it a better, safer place," he said. "I just didn't have the tools to pursue it through medicine at that time. What I did have was this ability to run toward the things that other people were running away from."


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