A common adage in medical training goes, “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses (not zebras).” For most doctors in conventional practice, that means that exotic explanations are rarely right. The most prosaic diagnosis for a patient’s symptoms is usually the correct one.
Elaine Zackai, MD, surrounds herself with zebras. In medical practice, Dr. Zackai routinely discovers zebras when treating patients with the rarest and most complex, and often unknown, genetic disorders, as director of Clinical Genetics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In her office, she is surrounded with the motif of zebras, from plush toys and figurines to picture frames and the pictures within them — tchotchkes of every stripe, all zebra-striped.