Jérôme Lejeune’s passion for medicine was born from reading « Médecin de Campagne de la Comédie Humaine” written by Balzac. This countryside physician devoted to his patients will be a model for Jérôme Lejeune and it is through him that the young man will develop his passion for medicine. Fighting diseases, curing them; that is what the young Jérôme wants to do.
Specialist in nuclear radiations, he studies and describes the links between radiations and the development of leukaemia. In 1957, his father, Pierre Lejeune, gets sick. The terrible diagnosis is quickly given. His lungs. Lung cancer. For the first time, Jérôme is confronted with the sufferings of a loved one. The disease allows no respite and Pierre’s suffering increases. “Seeing someone you love suffer is unbearable” will be Jérôme Lejeune’s words. Pierre, sick, is agonising. All night long, Jérôme Lejeune will stand by him while the disease carries on its deadly work. On January 11th 1958, Pierre Lejeune dies.
This ordeal profoundly marked Jérôme Lejeune and only made his desire to succeed in treating and curing stronger. During his whole life, he will take on this fight by remaining at the service of people living with Down Syndrome. Geneticist and expert in atomic radiations, Jérôme Lejeune will warn the people against the consequences of radiations…
His research on genetics serves one goal: that of finding a treatment for Down Syndrome. It leads him to acknowledging the complexity of the disease. He tries, fails, and carries on. No, nothing will ever stop him. His battle against the effects of this additional chromosome will enable him to better understand the general functioning of genes, but also its effect such as the development of various cancers. In January 1993, the ARC Foundation decides to grant him the Griffuel Award for his research work which allowed the battle against cancer to progress.
That same year, Jérôme Lejeune, who is touring the world to hold various conferences, is very tired. He too develops cancer. He is treated by Professeur Israël and Professor Chrétien and tries to sound positive: “Israël and Chrétien (French for Christian)! I am in good hands: The bible of medicine!”.
The disease grows and spreads, the sessions are strenuous. Jérôme Lejeune affronts the disease of which he knows the hardships. He is deeply affected by not having been able to cure Down Syndrome. ; As if wanting to thumb his nose at death, John Paul II decides to appoint him as head of the Pontifical Academy for life he has just created. Jérôme, sick, writes down its statuses. During Holy weak he is in agony. To his daughter who asks him about his will, he answers: “You know, I don’t have much… So I gave them my life. And my life is all I had”. Until the very end he was preoccupied by his patients and their additional chromosome. Getting emotional, he carries on: “I was the one who was supposed to cure them… and I am leaving without having succeeded… What are they going to become.” During Easter night, Jérôme dies, beaten by cancer, by disease, disease he spent his life fighting through both the way he lived as well as through research.
Jérôme Lejeune has gone, but his battle still carries on thanks to the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation, who launched, a few years later, a great programme called ONCODEFI in order to fight against cancer in patients with intellectual disorders.