Former NYPD officer becoming doctor, all despite a learning disability

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A former New York City police officer is taking on a new challenge, and it's no small one. He's becoming a doctor, and has done it all while dealing with a learning disability.

"I wanted to be a doctor, fireman or police officer," says PH.D. student Christian Saffran.

Two out of three. Not bad, but instead of firefighter, add scientist to Christian's resume.

"Pathways that involved higher education were on par with living on Mars or something, a complete fantasy and I lived a large chunk of my life like that, college was for other people, it was for smart people," said Christian.

His journey is unconventional and still taking shape. You see, Christian is making history. At 45, he's the oldest person to ever get into the MD/PH.D. program at Weill-Cornell Medicine.

Just 18 students are accepted. Nearly 600 apply.

"Now my full time occupation was learning," said Christian. "The thing that I thought I could never do, it was incredibly exciting, I was a kid in a candy store."

But things haven't always been this sweet. As a child, Christian was diagnosed with ADHD and a visual memory disturbance. He struggled to read.

"I grew up thinking I was unintelligent, had a couple of teachers that supported that idea," he said.

Christian later joined the NYPD and eventually became an undercover narcotics officer with the street name, Dread.

WEB EXTRA: Watch an extended interview with Christian
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Watch an extended version of our interview with Christian Saffran, a retired officer turned doctor.

His daughter Alorah was soon born.

"It was becoming increasingly difficult to be the father that I wanted to be and the cop I wanted to be, and so obviously there's no choice to make there," said Christian.

He became a private investigator. Then, a pivotal moment. Alorah was diagnosed with a learning disorder.

Christian gave her the extra support he didn't get as a kid. She thrived.

He thought maybe, just maybe he could do more.

He did: Graduated from Columbia University cum laude with a degree in biophysics.

Now this, the next chapter in his life.

His advice for others who, like him, were paralyzed by self-doubt: "If you have a mountain in front of you, you can demonstrate your ability to overcome that mountain by climbing that mountain," he says. "If you start out at the top of the mountain, how do you convince people, you're a mountain climber."
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