DON QUIXOTE IN NEWARK
Don Quixote in Newark tells the inspiring story of James Oleske, the New Jersey pediatrician who identified HIV/AIDS in children. His scientific breakthrough, the outcome of dedicated work in an underfunded community hospital, changed the profile of AIDS forever and was instrumental in the discovery of the HIV virus. At the same time, his remarkable work spearheaded new forms of patient care and led to treatments still in use today.
It was in the early nineteen eighties that James Oleske, an untried pediatric immunologist at Newark’s St. Michael’s Hospital, made the startling observation that his young patients were showing signs of the new and unknown syndrome recently discovered in gay men and drug users. Yet every established authority in the field told him that it was medically impossible. His mentor thought he was crazy; the press labeled him an alarmist. Oleske refused to back down.
Struggling to cope with a mounting medical crisis in his New Jersey community, Oleske and his team persisted in painstaking frontline research. They would soon publish the first article on the disease that was ultimately called HIV/AIDS in children. In time he would build the first major Pediatric AIDS program in the country and became an important player in the conquest of pediatric HIV/AIDS in America.
Medical brilliance alone cannot account for Oleske’s breakthrough. Throughout his life he had pushed the envelope, exhibiting a rebellious streak that often put him at odds with established practices and authority figures essential to his own advancement. Like Don Quixote, the hero of his favorite novel, Oleske often fought for seemingly lost causes in which he believed, often at the risk of his own career. As Sancho Panza points out to Don Quixote, “if the pitcher hits the stone or the stone hits the pitcher, it’s bad for the pitcher.”
This documentary is the story of a visionary pediatrician who refused to follow the path of least resistance. Juxtaposing the dramatic events of Oleske’s exploration of pediatric AIDS with scenes from his work today in that same underserved community hospital, this film will highlight the multifaceted rewards of a life dedicated to public service and the necessary role such service plays in the advancement of medicine.
Don Quixote in Newark will be the first major documentary about the discovery and eradication of pediatric HIV/AIDS in America. As such it will explore:
Oleske’s breakthrough realization that asymptomatic mothers were transmitting the disease and his publication of the first article identifying what would become known as AIDS in children.
Oleske’s development of family-centered care in Newark and his collaboration with the Newark Community leading to the standard international model for pediatric AIDS care.
Oleske’s collaboration with researcher Robert Gallo in the isolation and identification of the virus.
How Oleske's lab work played a key role in the development of the first test of HIV/AIDS by Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier.
Oleske’s development of the drug protocol stopping mother to child transmission that led to the eradication of pediatric HIV/AIDS in the United States.
A number of recent films, like the Oscar-winning documentary, Surviving a Plague have told the history of the adult gay epidemic. But the story of childhood HIV/AIDs largely confined to poor and minority children is being overlooked once again as it was in the days of the epidemic itself.
Oleske’s entire life has been dedicated to working inside the largely poor and minority community of Newark. Despite the lack of funds he — along with the women of Newark — fought valiantly against the ravages the disease brought to their already hurting community.
In the end Oleske could not be ignored and he became a national leader. Along the way, he encountered a miracle in the form of a Swiss countess who aided his program, when no one else would, by selling her jewels!
This story is about finding light at the end of a forbiddingly long and dark tunnel. It is a story of death and powerful redemption.