It had been over a week since anyone had heard from Andy, and I was really starting to worry. It was not like him to leave his wife and family with no idea as to where he had gone. Further, it was unheard of to have him not answer his cell phone, or for him not to return my messages within a few hours.
When Andy had first come to me with his observations, I was a bit stunned at the implications of what he had discovered. But, once I realized what they meant, I told him that it was wonderful. All he had to do was continue his research, and he could eventually set things right by discovering the cure that he had been working on. But, this idea did not appeal to Andy. He wanted to bring in the media, and expose the people we worked for. I told him to keep quiet, or he could end up loosing his job, and most likely be discredited.
Andy is Professor Andrew Lukens, PhD, MD, OD, and I was seriously afraid he had just added SD (suddenly dead) to his credentials. It was not inconceivable that he might just have rocked the boat too much in the corporation, and become too much of a liability to be allowed to live. If this was the case, I could easily be the next one to disappear in the same manner. And, if Andy was indeed dead, I was not going to go without a fight, because it was a matter of my life or my death.
To explain this situation better, I will take you back to when I first met Professor Lukens. It was 1996, and I was representing one of the largest optical conglomerates in the world at senate hearings in Washington D.C. For the past 5 years Andy had been working under a government grant to attempt to isolate, and repair the defective genes that cause myopia in human beings. He had followed the DNA trail, had discovered the genetic makeup of a special gene that when damaged produces myopia, but he had not been able to repair the damaged gene. In one of his trials, he had used a special compounded drug that should have repaired the gene, but instead it ended up producing the genetic defect, and creating myopes of all 500 of the people tested. Well, maybe not 500 myopes, as I believe that half of the study was already diagnosed with the genetic defect, and would have become myopic anyway. The treatment, however, accelerated the expression of myopia. This failure of the drug, and the resulting backlash, had effectively cancelled Andy’s chances to receive further government funding for his studies. My job, in fact, was to make sure that this happened.
After 2 weeks, the hearings wrapped up, and as my firm had wished, Andy’s study was cancelled. I walked out of the hearing and got on the elevator at the same time as Andy did. He had a bitter look on his face, and I certainly could understand why. He was out of work, his research was cancelled, and he was slightly discredited.
“Professor Lukens, I have been authorized to offer you a job with Optitech Fabriken LLC,” I said.
“What would that entail?” he asked, somewhat quarrelsomely with bitterness in his voice.
“Meet me at the bar at the Mayflower Hotel in one hour. I will explain it all to you then,” I replied.
That meeting at the bar at the Mayflower was the start of a very deep friendship between Andy and myself. I offered Andy a job at a salary of $100,000 per year, with lucrative stock options in Optitech Fabriken. He was to have his own lab, his own budget, and all he had to do was to continue the research that he had previously been doing. However, the catch was that Optitech Fabriken would now own all the rights to the past and future research results that he would obtain, with of course, some considerable monetary compensation to him.
“So you mean to tell me that the largest manufacturer, as well as the major supplier of glasses, as well as contact lenses, wants me to continue my research into the possible elimination of myopia through genetic repair?” Andy said, with a question in his voice.
“Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. The Corporation will also own the rights to all your research over the past 5 years. The government cancelled your funding, but they didn’t ask for the rights to the research, so we will,” I replied.
“So what happens if my research eliminates the need for corrective lenses, both glasses and contacts? Won’t that put your firm out of business?” Andy asked.
“Well, if you do come up with the answer, I guess we will just have to kill you,” I said with a smile in my voice.
He knew I was just kidding and didn’t give me a rise. “Seriously,” I said, “ by owning the research we will be able to downsize our operations should this prove to be something that works. We will own the information, so we can have a 5 year delay in its release to allow us to sell off anything that will be required, and then we will own the rights to whatever drug that you discover, so we will end up making a huge fortune.”
“I guess I can live with that,” Andy replied.
As I got to know Andy, I discovered the reason for his passion about research on the causes of myopia. Andy, and his wife, Irene, had each been high myopes when they were married, during their years at university. But their high myopia was at the lower end of the spectrum. I think Andy’s own prescription was around –7.50D, even now at age 46, and Irene, who was a couple of years younger, couldn’t have yet broken the –10D level. Andy was interning at the hospital, well on his way to his first doctorate, when their daughter Elizabeth was born. Three years later, with a very difficult pregnancy, during which their other daughter Gabriella had to be delivered 2 months early due to complications, which could have cost both mother and daughter their lives, they became a family of four.
I had never seen a lazier child than Liz. She read all the time, and was constantly snacking on junk food. Her idea of a good meal was a sandwich or burger– and she would only eat white bread, a coke, and French fries. And, every time I saw her, she was reading, eating, or watching TV. Ria was very different and was the active one. Since the day she was released from the hospital she had been on the move. By the time Ria was 3, Liz was 5, and starting school, Irene took both of the girls for a visit to their ophthalmologist. I suppose Irene must have had a suspicion, as it seemed to be no great surprise that Liz required glasses with a prescription of around –2D. Ria, however, was discovered to require quite a strong first prescription, and I remember hearing Andy and Irene talking about the fact that Ria had been given a –6D prescription but actually required –8D. Over the next few years, Ria had several increases in her prescription, and by the time she was 12, she wore glasses with a prescription of around –13D. Because of her being a premature baby, this was easily explainable, as many preemies develop high myopia. It was even felt that because of her great interest in the outdoors, and in sports, that Ria had a much lower prescription than she might otherwise have had. Liz, who was 14, also had many prescription increases over the past 9 years, and she was wearing glasses that were even stronger than Ria’s. I think Liz’s prescription, at this time, was well over –14D. Liz by now was also extremely overweight, and quite dumpy. She still read constantly, with the thick lenses of her glasses mere inches from the pages of her book. When and if she looked up from her book, she always peered at everything though eyes that were partially closed in a typical myopic squint.
It was at this time that Andy began his research into the genetic makeup of myopia. Andy checked his own DNA, as well as Irene’s. It didn’t surprise him that they both showed the defective gene. He checked both girls, and they also showed that they both had the defect. Irene had saved locks of each girl’s hair from birth, and Andy was very surprised when he checked these hair samples to find that Liz did not show the defective gene at birth. So, something had triggered this defective gene during Liz’s first 5 years.
It was this discovery that lead to Andy finding that white, refined flour, and refined sugar in a child’s diet was what promoted the change from the healthy gene to a defective one. Andy developed what he thought was an antidote, but as I mentioned earlier, this backfired, and resulted in every one from the test group ending up with the defective gene. The non-myopes were included as a control group, and the myopes were supposed to have the genes repaired. Now, however, there were 500 myopes, resulting from Andy’s antidote.
Andy had been working for the company for around 6 years, when reports started to trickle in from the various authorities around the world. It seemed that every 5-year-old child, starting school was discovered to be myopic. There was not one child who was farsighted. And when the results were the same the following year, Andy came to me, very agitated.
“Those S.O.B.’s we work for must have taken my original drug, and found a way to get it distributed all around the world,” the words exploded from his mouth.
“Whoa buddy, slow down, bring me up to speed here,” I replied.
“That is why you offered me this GD job, so that Optitech Fabriken LLC could get their hands on my formulae that made all the test subjects nearsighted. They didn’t want me to ever discover a cure for the genetic defect that causes myopia. Were you in on this you, you…..”
“Hey Andy, you got to believe me, I don’t know anything about what you are saying. I believed what they told me,” I replied.
Somehow I got Andy cooled down a bit, and we were able to talk rationally. Apparently, the formulae that had made the test subjects nearsighted was a simple compound that could be added to any edible product in the world, as well as placed into the drinking water of every city and town in the world. The only way a child could have escaped the results would be if he or she had been raised on a farm that had their own well, and they raised all their own food. This child could never have eaten at a fast food establishment, or ever had a store bought piece of bread, or a doughnut, or a soda pop, or a candy bar. So, if what Andy thought was true, it was logical that every child in the world would now be myopic, some of them very myopic. And, since every person now had the defective gene, there was more than an 85% chance that their offspring would have the defective gene too. Andy explained to me that even without having the defective gene, poor diet, and poor reading habits would, as they had done with his daughter, Liz, make the gene naturally defective. So, now there was very little chance that anyone would escape being myopic.
Andy was all for revealing what Optitech Fabriken had done to the world. I had hoped I had talked him out of it for obvious reasons.
“So, the damage is done. What would you gain by spilling the beans? Actually, it would be a lot better for you to just continue with your research and keep quiet,” I said to him.
“Kerry, you are a damned fool if you think they would ever release any drug that would reverse this damage they have done. And, if I were to have a breakthrough, do you remember what you told me would happen years ago when I asked you what they would do to me?” Andy asked.
“No, what?” I had totally forgotten what I said.
“You thought you were joking, but you said they would kill me. I now believe that to be true,” Andy retorted.
“So, you are a dead man either way. They will kill you if you reveal what they have done, and they will kill you if you come up with a cure for what they have done. You might as well milk this research for a few more years, and then retire, a very wealthy man,” was my thought.
“You don’t understand. I have done it. I finally have a cure for myopia,” Andy said. He then proceeded to show me his results from the past year.
“I will pretend I haven’t seen this, and if our bosses ever find out, we both could be dead,” I said.
“I will keep quiet for now, but I will do something, you can count on that. I would suggest you sell your shares in the company.”
And those were the last words I heard Andy speak. Yesterday I found hidden in my car trunk, a brown envelope with a number of research notes, and a formulae for a compound. I was sure Andy had hidden it there. I was a bit shaky, but I decided to bide my time, and then I was going to release this to every newspaper in the world. It just wasn’t right that everyone in the world would be nearsighted. It just wasn’t right!
The following is what appeared in the local newspaper:
Olsen, Kerry James: It is with great regret that the family of Kerry Olsen, an executive with Optitech Fabriken, announces his sudden death, in his 46th year, as the result of injuries sustained in a single car accident. Kerry leaves behind his wife Emily, and son Peter, aged 14, and daughter Anne, aged 12. Kerry was preceded in death by his parents Frederick and Martha Olsen (nee Stuart). The family had a private ceremony with the body being cremated.
Specs4ever, with editing by Aliena