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Ahmar U. Zaidi, MD

Editor, ASH News Daily

One year ago, after a hectic clinic day in December, I scurried home to chuck some freshly laundered clothes into a suitcase that I hadn’t emptied since my trip the week before. You see, when you’re an academic pediatric hematologist, you’re on the road a lot (like a rock star, but instead of Spotify or Apple Music, my work is on PubMed). The burden of travel, as many of my colleagues experience, had become a tinderbox as it accumulated over the year — a realization that occurred as I noted that my own ability to comprehend my schedule was completely tied to my upcoming flight schedule in the Delta Airlines app on my phone. Trips had become an aggravation — a burden for the whole family, unfortunately, who had to circumnavigate through a jumble of babysitters, caregivers, and family members. But on this evening, I wasn’t aggravated.  I was excited. Because Decembers were always different.

In the family’s December calendar, besides Hannukah and Christmas, a four-day block shaded in red had become a permanent feature. The ASH annual meeting has been the highlight of my academic year for the better part of the last decade. And of course, I don’t need to describe the overt value of the most comprehensive hematology event of the year. However, the covert value of this meeting wasn’t clear to me until I started consistently attending. For a sickle cell physician like myself, a spontaneous run-in with Dr. Elliot Vichinsky in the hotel lobby, or a spur-of-the-moment after-meeting conversation about pain with Dr. Wally Smith, or an instantaneous mentoring session from Dr. Michael DeBaun in the Poster Hall, or a chance elevator ride with Dr. Alexis Thompson (where she called me her favorite Twitter doc, no joke!) are all invaluable. How do you put a value on the between-session coffee with your next research collaborator, the Twitter-come-to-life friends in the Exhibit Hall, and the inspiration you glean from being around 30,000 colleagues listening to one hematologist at the Plenary Session making us love to learn, one p-value at a time?

And while replacing the overcast sky and frigid winds of Detroit with the sun and balmy air of San Diego or Orlando (we are going to pretend that the snowstorm in Atlanta at the 2018 ASH Annual Meeting never happened; I have erased it from my memory and so should you) might sound like enough, I would travel to Antarctica for this meeting if I had to.

This year, though, our commute will be much easier. Mine will be about 15 steps from my bed to my desk. And different from years past, my coffee will be in my Star Wars mug instead of the flimsy cardboard convention center cups. And instead of freshly pressed blazer and slacks, I’ll be in my pajamas. And it is in those very pajamas that I will serve as the Editor of the 2020 ASH News Daily. This is not what I expected for 2020 (I’ve said that 9,000 times since January 1).

But here I am, effusively proclaiming that the 2020 ASH Annual Meeting, despite being completely different, will be undeniably outstanding. As we have come to expect from the ASH team, year after year, they have once again managed to meet the moment. They have constructed an extraordinary, comprehensive meeting that will address not only critical hematologic issues, particularly those related to the pandemic, but will also keep us concentrated on the increasingly palpable disparities that have plagued us for far longer than SARS-CoV-2.

So, what exactly is the role of the ASH News Daily Team this year? This is a question I have asked myself while carefully assembling our team. I think of ASH News Daily as a map. The successful navigation of novel territory, like that of an entirely virtual meeting, requires some guidance. My team and I have scoured through every abstract, every session, and every speaker, to find the high points and can’t-miss items for #ASH20. In this Preview Issue, you will discover an article from each of the marvelous five authors, highlighting the can’t-miss events and sessions. Let them guide you through this meeting, having done the prep work to help you fine-tune your dance card for the annual meeting, and to aid your virtual journey from its initiation to its culmination, making sure it is stress-free and comprehensive.

Can we replace the hallway conversations, impromptu discussions, and in-person collegiality? No. Can I make up for the missing historic Gaslamp Quarter and pleasant weather? No. What I can assure you is that the ASH News Daily Editorial Board, in partnership with the spectacular ASH staff, will tirelessly ensure that every essential aspect of this meeting finds you wherever you may be. So, let the dust stay settled on your suitcase, brew some robust coffee, and fire up your mobile devices. And in the safety of your home through this secure, yet comprehensive virtual conference, amidst a deadly viral pandemic, thankfully the only thing that will take your breath away, will be this meeting and its full coverage by our ASH News Daily Authors.

About the Author

Ahmar Zaidi is a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit. Originally from Windsor, Ontario, he graduated from Medical University of the Americas and now specializes in sickle cell disease, hemoglobinopathies, and classical hematology. His other research interests include social media and wearable technology. Dr. Zaidi was an Author for the 2019 ASH News Daily board and is a member of the ASH Medical Educators Institute Class of 2019. His ultimate guilty pleasure is Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. Oh, and he also gave a TED Talk on sickle cell disease last year.

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