On May 22nd, I learned that Mike Homer, a long-time Silicon Valley executive (most recently, chairman and co-founder of Kontiki) investor, visionary, philanthropist, and family man, has a serious brain disease. I assumed it was cancer, but I later learned (link: Valleywag, including the world's worst picture of Mike) that it is Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare (about 300 per year in the U.S. vs. 375 deaths or injuries from lightning) prion-based disease similar to the bovine "mad cow" disease. Mike is the founder (and funder) of Open Media Network, an effectively eight-figure gift to public media.
It turns out that the primary center for the study of this disease is in San Francisco near where he lives and the researcher who won the 1997 Nobel Prize for discovering prions is on Mike's case. On Thursday evening, a large number of Mike's friends gathered in Palo Alto to inaugurate a "fight for Mike," with the hopes of raising money for research into this devastating disease. In spite of suffering some symptoms from it already, in typical Homer fashion, Mike and his wife Kristina helped plan the event. Kara Swisher of All Things Digital writes about it and includes a video from the event (link, with better picture: BoomTown in All Things Digital) and Nick Denton in Valleywag covered the event also.
I've not written about this because initially the information was confidential and then it was just too hard to face. Over the past 27 months, I've spent dozens hours with Mike in Boston, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Washington, and his Silicon Valley home, plus countless phone calls, on OMN business. I got the short straw to coordinate a group of public broadcasting stations and independent producers that was advising Mike on OMN and on public broadcasting. I came away, however, with a priceless graduate education. No one deserves this disease, but Mike deserves it less than most.
Kara Swisher's article lists some things that we can do to be helpful to this research. I hope that many of you will do that. I don't doubt this effort will have positive results, but I just hope it's in time to do Mike some good. By the way, some public radio readers may remember Pat Joy, the former head of Oregon Public Broadcasting radio a number of years back. Sadly, she died of CJD or something very similar.
Update, 19 June 2007:
Kara Swisher has posted More CJD Info at BoomTown/All Things Digital. Importantly, it includes addresses where you can help. --Dennis