Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Health/Medicine Page 1 of 3

If someone discovers a new cure for cancer, this would be worth mentioning, and you can anticipate those kinds of stories.

“76 Days:” Engrossing Doc About the Outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan (Free Online)

“76 Days” is a 93-minute documentary about the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China, a film directed and written by Hao Wu, Weixi Chen (the cinematographer) and an individual who chose to remain anonymous. One wonders how the team managed to record this battle within a Chinese hospital and whether the anonymity is because the Chinese government might disapprove of the telling of this story.

The film is shot within the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital, beginning on January 23, 2020, in that city of eleven million people. The 76 days will end on April 8th and air raid sirens will mourn the dead in the city on April 4th.

The documentary opens with a dramatic scene of sick people trying to crowd into the hospital from the cold, despite the institution’s 45 stated maximum occupancy for patients.  This siege will not end until April 8th, the lockdown that the city endured.

The patients seem to be primarily elderly, although one young girl, a hospital employee, is seen wailing throughout the opening scenes. She keeps saying “I want to say good-bye. I’ll never see my papa again.” We track the mourning family member outside, where she once again pleads for one last glimpse of her deceased loved one, who is being taken away in a hearse.

We see Dr. Wang exhorting his colleagues to “unite as a collective whole and win the battle to protect Wuhan.” One volunteer explains that he had “a hero’s dream to go support Wuhan.”

Trang Dingyuan came from Shanghai to help. The first supporters (volunteers) arrived from Sichuan, but others drove all the way from Shanghai to help staff the hospital in Wuhan. It is an 8 hour and 47 minute drive from Shanghai to Wuhan. The universality of what New York later experienced is experienced, but with more PPE amongst the employees.

Mostly, the film is a testimony to the chaos that the epidemic has caused, with no hospital beds and resuscitation failing on several patients as the cameras record the desperate struggle.

Some humorous relief is provided by an elderly man, referred to as “Grandpa.” Grandpa, who has dementia, will not stay in his room and continues to wander the hospital corridors, usually while muttering things like “I’m already one foot in the grave.” He cannot read and there is a heated phone discussion with his son about how long he has been an upstanding member of the Communist party. [His son seems to think he should set a better example as a proud Communist, but, instead, Grandpa is mostly crying in his room—when he’s not out wandering around and causing problems.] Even when the hospital is trying to release him back into the world, Grandpa starts wandering in the wrong direction, back into the hospital. The staff applauds when Grandpa is finally released upon the world.

In the midst of all this death, a young woman in childbirth (whose water broke 2 days earlier) must be delivered by Caesarean section. She had Covid-19, which she has passed on to her newborn daughter. We follow that drama through to the end as the child—a chubby female with a full head of hair whom the staff nicknames “the hungry penguin”— is whisked away to another area of the hospital and an incubator.

A box of cell phones collected from the dead and dying is introduced early in the documentary. It is at the end of the documentary that Yang Li, head ICU nurse, draws the unenviable duty of sorting through the abandoned phones and calling the next of kin to tell them to come pick up their dead relatives’ belongings. Usually,Yang Li seeks to return a phone to the relatives. One deceased woman’s bracelet is retrieved for her daughter, despite the fact that it is against regulations and the deceased, Grandma Luo Jinsong, had swollen arms at the time of her death, causing difficulty in retrieving the jewelry.

When she completes the task of returning the bracelet and the phone to a young girl who is sobbing, Yang Li expresses her condolences. She turns from the camera and appears broken, numb. It reminds of the line from earlier in the film, “How could it have come to this?”

The beleaguered hospital employees work tirelessly to try to save their patients and to preserve order within the hospital. I was surprised to hear patients being asked if they had “vomiting or diarrhea,” since neither of these symptoms received much air play on American television. I was also surprised to learn that ICU is emblazoned above the doors to the Chinese facility, much like Intensive Care Unit appears above these areas in American hospitals.  I assumed that all signs would be in the language of the country. There was also a much better degree of PPE in this Chinese hospital than during the early days of the pandemic in the U.S. and most of the doctors and nurses appear as masked and fully covered workers.

Writer/Director Hao Wu helmed “All in My Family” in 2019 and “People’s Republic of Desire” in 2018. His documentary about underground Chinese churches (2006) earned him a detention from the Chinese government. “76 Days” has had 3 wins on the film festival circuit: Best Documentary at AFI Fest, Grand Prize and Social Impact Award for Heartland International Film Festival, and 3 additional nominations, including at the 43rd Denver Film Festival. After premiering at Toronto, it will release on December 4th.

“Meat the Future” Explains How Meat Can Be Grown in Labs and Replace “Real” Meat

Now playing the 43rd Denver Film Festival, “Meat the Future” is a Liz Marshall documentary that explains the brainchild of cardiac surgeon Uma Valeti, who has formed Memphis Meats to bring meat grown in laboratories to market.

Dr. Valeti actually was a trained cardiac surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, but he had been haunted for years by the idea that, in order to eat meat, animals must be grown to adulthood and then slaughtered. Not only did the idea that “in the midst of life, we are in death” affect him as a child, he also became aware of the growing demand for meat that cannot be met by standard methods.

In the course of this film, we meet Ira Van Eelen, whose father in Amsterdam may have been the Godfather of Clean Meat, starting experiments with growing meat in a lab as far back as 2010. Dr. Valeti took the idea and has made it a reality—if an expensive reality—making it possible to cultivate meat that tastes like meat, from the cells of chickens and ducks and beef cattle, in a cultured lab setting over the course of 4 weeks, whereas it takes from 14 to 24 months to raise an animal from birth to slaughter.

SLAUGHTER

In order to feed humans, pigs and cows and other living mammals are slaughtered. It’s a reality that has driven many to become vegetarians. Even Dr. Valeti admits having tried vegetarianism for a while. The success of things like tofu burgers, however, has not been nearly as close to “the real thing” as the cultured meats that Valeti’s Memphis Meats has been able to produce.

Early news articles (April, 2016) showed a pound of what appeared to be ground beef with the label $18,000 – 1 lb. of ground beef from Memphis Meats. The three original investors put $3.1 million together but, since their successes, investors like Bill Gates and Richard Branson, along with David McLennan, the CEO of Cargill, have come onboard to underwrite the group’s efforts.  Draper Fisher Jurveston, an investment firm for those looking to underwrite promising technologies, reports that the group now has “more money coming at them than they want to take” and mentioned a figure of $4 billion.

What are the “good” and the “bad” things about “clean meat”? (“clean meat,” as a term,has tested more positively than “cultured meat” in P.R. studies).

THE GOOD:

  • Animals are a big part of the carbon footprint problem and, with this technology, the need to raise so many animals on feed lots, is bypassed, thereby decreasing the carbon footprint of the industries that are now producing our meat. The film mentions a timeline of 20 to 30 years by which time animals would not need to be raised for meat. This is, as the film put it, ‘a huge paradigm shift.”
  • Supply – The documentary posits the belief that, despite all the efforts that currently exist to feed the world’s people, we need to step up production. Comparing 4 weeks of preparation time (clean meat)  to 14 to 24 months (real meat) is educational.
  • No more slaughtering living creatures for our beef, pork, poultry or fish.

 

THE BAD:

  • As you can imagine, meat producers are not at all sure that this idea is a “good” thing for them, their industry, or the public They maintain that the government must learn how to regulate cell-based meats. Both Sonny Perdue (Secretary of Agriculture) and Dr. Scott Gottlieb of “Face the Nation” appearances talk about “clean meat.”
  • The Good Food Institute says we need the equivalent of a Manhattan Project to move the initiative forward. Why do I get the feeling that, just like the electric car, the “old way” meat people will kill the idea of cultured cells becoming edible meat, just as the fossil fuel industry killed the electric car?
  • Expense – currently, it is prohibitively expensive to create “clean meat” with figures of $1700 per pound mentioned. The use of markets and technology to solve problems cannot be supported enthusiastically enough, but I do wonder if this Bold Brave Idea might end up like the hydrogen car. (Remember that one?)

“How Did You Like Them Apples?” (A: I Didn’t)

Apples

Greek director Christos Nikou has crafted a film about a pandemic that causes amnesia and a bureau, the Disturbed Memory Department for Amnesiacs, that works to re-educate those so affected.

It opens with the main character, Aris (Aris Servetalis) knocking his head against a wall and, shortly thereafter, he is on a bus but has no idea where he is going.

Many others are affected. Apples enter the plot as being good for the memory, according to a local grocer, while Aris hungrily wolfs them down onscreen.

During the course of the re-education of Aris, the Bureau sets him up with housing, walking around money, and a set of instructions as to what he is supposed to do. The Learning How to Live New Identity Program will have us watching Aris bicycle, solicit a lap dance, attend a costume party, go to a movie, take Polaroids of all new experiences and do the Twist, a dance made popular in the U.S. in 1960 by Chubby Checker. [Why would a song that is 70 years old be playing at the disco? No idea. Maybe that is considered “cutting edge” in this film’s country of origin.]

I’m a big fan of plots that have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This plot has a beginning and a long middle. It has no end.

It won a Slovene Film Festival award for Best Sound and has nominations in several other Feature Film competitions, including both the 56th Chicago International Film Festival and the 43rd Denver International Film Festival.

One of the things I found most off-putting about the film is the fact that Alzheimers Disease is basically rampant in this country now. It’s truly not a “funny” thing to lose all sense of identity and not know where you are going or who you are.

I did not like this film for that and other reasons that have nothing to do with the argument that it posits amnesia as a cure and not a disease.

Losing your mind is not funny and too many people I have personally known, including my father, have experienced it, so no recommendation from me for this one.

Don’t Cry For Me, White House Staffers

Chadwick Boseman of “Black Panther” Dead at 43

Chadwick Boseman at the premiere of “Marshall” in October, 2017. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

The news that Chadwick Boseman was dead at 43, which came to us on Friday, August 28th, was very sad news, indeed. Boseman had been battling colon cancer for 4 years. He was married to Taylor Simone Ledward.

This young actor from Anderson, South Carolina, was a great one.  He was the son of Carolyn and LeRoy Boseman, African American immigrants from Sierra Leone and Nigeria. His portrayal of Jackie Robinson in the film “42” with Harrison Ford cemented him as a leading man in 2013, but Chadwick had been acting as far back as 2003, when he portrayed a character named Reggie Montgomery on “All My Children.”

Ironically, when he expressed reservations about the racial stereotypes inherent in the Reggie Montgomery character, he was replaced by his co-star in “Black Panther,” Michael B. Jordan.

All the way back to his high school days, Chadwick had been interested in directing and only began acting so he could learn how to interact with his cast. In his junior year of high school, in fact, he wrote a play entitled “Crossroads” following the death of a classmate.

After graduating from T.L. Hanna High School in 1995, Chadwick went on to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., where one of his instructors was Phylicia Rashad. Chadwick and some fellow students had been accepted to attend the Oxford Mid-Summer Program at the British Drama Academy in London. Rashad approached Denzel Washington to help fund the students’ trip there.

Boseman also attended the New York City Digital Film Directing Academy in New York City and did some teaching in the city while living in Brooklyn, but eventually moved to Los Angeles in 2008.

By 2013, he was acting in the movies that he would define with his talent, as with his portrayal of King T’Challa in “Black Panther.”

Sterling K. Brown (October, 2017, Chicago International Film Festival.) [Photo by Connie Wilson]

I met Chadwick Boseman in Chicago in 2017 when he and other actors, such as Sterling K. Brown, appeared in support of “Marshall,” a film in which Boseman played the title role. He was kind and articulate in answering our questions and the cast was like a “Who’s Who” of current Black stars. He was luminous and had a real presence.

Boseman was a gracious and cordial “movie star,” as were the others present in October, 2017 at the Chicago International Film Festival that year. His very presence was impressive, especially since we now know that all the while he was making films like “Marshall,” the “Avengers” series, and “Black Panther” he was fighting this disease. Privately, Boseman was already battling the colon cancer that would ultimately take his life. He had been diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer, which increased to Stage IV cancer. He had surgeries and had endured radiation and surgeries all during the years when he was portraying characters like the King of Wakanda, T’Challa, in “Black Panther,” the “Avengers” series of movies, Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall” and a character in “Da 5 Bloods,” the 2020 Spike Lee film.

This disease claimed my own father many years ago, metastasizing from the colon to his liver and other organs, eventually even invading his brain. It is my fervent hope that this tragic loss will cause others to have frequent colonoscopies to find and cure the colon cancer that, if caught in time, is survivable.

If not caught in time, it can claim the life of even such a specimen as Chadwick Boseman. General recommendations are to have such tests beginning at age 50, but obviously that is not always soon enough if there is a family history.

Once that family history exists, the general recommendation is to have colonscopies every three years, rather than the normal every five years. Katie Couric’s husband died young from colon cancer, and she would echo my hope that this unnecessary death of such a talented young man might spur all of us to be vigilant.

Chadwick Boseman (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Chadwick Boseman’s words to a graduating class: “Purpose is why you are here on the planet at this particular time in history. The struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”

Films from Wikipedia.org:

2008The Express: The Ernie Davis StoryFloyd LittleGary Fleder[64]
2012The Kill HoleLt. Samuel DrakeMischa Webley[65]
201342Jackie RobinsonBrian Helgeland[64]
2014Draft DayVontae MackIvan Reitman[66]
2014Get on UpJames BrownTate Taylor[64]
2016Gods of EgyptThothAlex Proyas[67]
2016Captain America: Civil WarT’Challa / Black PantherAnthony & Joe Russo[68]
2016Message from the KingJacob KingFabrice Du WelzAlso executive producer[69]
2017MarshallThurgood MarshallReginald HudlinAlso co-producer[70]
2018Black PantherT’Challa / Black PantherRyan Coogler[71]
2018Avengers: Infinity WarAnthony & Joe Russo[72]
2019Avengers: Endgame[73]
201921 BridgesAndre DavisBrian KirkAlso producer[74]
2020Da 5 BloodsNorman Earl “Stormin’ Norm” HollowaySpike Lee[75]
TBAMa Rainey’s Black BottomLeveeGeorge C. WolfePost-production; posthumous release[76]

 

Television
YearTitleRoleNotesRef.
2003All My ChildrenReggie PorterRecurring role[24]
2003Third WatchDavid WaferEpisode: “In Lieu of Johnson”[77]
2004Law & OrderFoster KeyesEpisode: “Can I Get a Witness?”[77]
2006CSI: NYRondoEpisode: “Heroes”[78]
2008ERDerek TaylorEpisode: “Oh, Brother”[77]
2008Cold CaseDexter CollinsEpisode: “Street Money”[77]
2008–2009Lincoln HeightsNathaniel “Nate” Ray9 episodes[79]
2009Lie to MeCabe McNeilEpisode: “Truth or Consequences”[80]
2010Persons UnknownSergeant McNair13 episodes[78]
2010The GladesMichael RichmondEpisode: “Honey”[81][82]
2011CastleChuck RussellEpisode: “Poof, You’re Dead”[78]
2011FringeMark Little / Cameron JamesEpisode: “Subject 9[83]
2011Detroit 1-8-7Tommy WestinEpisode: “Beaten/Cover Letter”[84]
2011JustifiedRalph BeemanEpisode: “For Blood or Money”[78]
2018Saturday Night LiveHimselfEpisode: “Chadwick Boseman/Cardi B[85]
2021What If…?T’Challa / Black Panther / Star-LordFinal role
Guest voice role; posthumous release
[86]

Awards and nominations

YearAwardCategoryNominated workResultRef.
2017Saturn AwardsBest Supporting ActorCaptain America: Civil WarNominated[87]
2018MTV Movie & TV AwardsBest Performance in a MovieBlack PantherWon[88]
Best HeroWon
Best Fight (Black Panther vs M’Baku)Nominated
Best On-Screen Team (with Lupita Nyong’oLetitia Wright and Danai Gurira)Nominated
2018Saturn AwardsBest ActorNominated[89]
2019Screen Actors Guild AwardsOutstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion PictureWon[90]
2019NAACP Image AwardsOutstanding Actor in a Motion PictureWon[91]
Entertainer of the YearNominated
2020Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture21 BridgesNominated[92]

This Ad Says It All

Jennifer Berliner, Heart Transplant Survivor, on Weekly Wilson on 4/30

Weekly Wilson of 4/30 with heart transplant survivor Jennifer Berliner brought in a record number of phone call questions.

There were 5 callers, [although one left line before we could get past the commercial to take the question].

One was from Colorado. I don’t know anyone in Colorado. One was from area code 301. (What state is that?)

Jennifer was the great guest I knew she’d be and we covered her cancer experiences (at age 15), her heart transplant, and the diabetes she currently fights. We also covered the costs associated with having a heart transplant, which Jennifer told me is her most popular YouTube video.

I jotted down just a few of the figures, with $640,000 for her hospitalization, $70,000 for the heart surgeon, $200,000 for the anaesthesiologist, and $80,000 for the cost of removing the donor’s heart and transferring it for transplant. She also mentioned the $35,000 a year that it costs for anti-rejection drugs and a total figure of $1.2 million. One of our callers wanted to know her out-of-pocket costs and we got figures that were in the $14,000 range for the first year.

The hour went by quickly, and I directed callers to Jennifer’s blog (www.anewheartrocks.com) and told them that it would be relatively easy to find the show when it is archived and goes up on my Weekly Wilson blog. (www.WeeklyWilson.com).

Next week’s guest is Dan Decker, AFI graduate, founder of the Chicago Screenwriting School, and author of the books Anatomy of a Screenplay: Writing the American Screenplay from Character Structure to Convergence and The Prime: The Dark Side of Light. Dan also holds dual Italian/United States citizenship and his brother is also an author.

Heart Transplant/Cancer Survivor Gives Sheltering Tips on 4/30 WEEKLY WILSON Podcast

Jennifer BerlinerMy guest on my Weekly Wilson podcast on the Bold Brave Media Global Network and Tune-In radio on April 29, Thursday, at 7 p.m. (CDT) will be Jennifer Berliner (pictured below and to the left).

At 15 years old, Jennifer was treated for bone cancer (Askin’s Sarcoma) and one of the drugs used afterwards, known as “red devils,” caused heart failure 8 years after her treatment.

Therefore, at 39, Jennifer had a heart transplant.

Four months later, doctors diagnosed breast cancer and she underwent a double mastectomy. To add to this litany of woes, Jennifer’s mother died from ovarian cancer just before her 41st birthday.

Through it all, Jennifer had “kept on keeping on” and has maintained a positive attitude using techniques that she studied in college as a social work major and others she had developed to keep her attitude upbeat in trying times.

This is a live call-in format (866-451-1451) and we welcome callers (be prepared to hold for a bit) with questions. Tune in to learn more about how to “shelter in place” successfully from a woman who knows more about face masks and staying inside for months at a time than any of us knew before the pandemic.

Jennifer Berliner

Abortion Rights Under Attack in the U.S.

For close to half a century, the GOP has tried to overturn Roe v. Wade and curb women’s right to reproductive freedom. This concerted effort to prevent a pregnant female from deciding not to carry a child to term does not come with adequate funding or societal help to assure that the overwhelmed potential mother would be able to care for said child, in the event that she were forced to go forward with her pregnancy. While chipping away at the social network like a demented woodpecker, the GOP has simply thrown around hot-button words (“socialism,” “abortion”) knowing that they will evoke the crazy response they want in their followers. There has been no GOP up-tick in social programs to assist, for example, women of color with several children and no supportive mate.

Says Planned Parenthood president Leana Wen, “The threat to safe, legal abortion in America is at risk like never before.” In the past 9 years over 400 state laws have been passed restricting abortion services. Eight states have only one abortion clinic left. Exploiting the explosive “wedge issue” has become one of the mainstays of the GOP talking points, along with calling anyone who believes that a woman’s reproductive decision should be hers a “Libtard” or a “liberal snowflake.” Interesting to report, there are no similar liberal perjorative names aimed at the Conservative wing of the GOP, specifically designed to denigrate their political beliefs and, in some cases, not only verbally attack them but physically attack them, as well.

As for the majority of Americans on this divisive issue,  60 per cent believe abortion should remain legal and it is conceivable that one in four women of child-bearing age might decide to have an abortion in her lifetime. Some of these women may have been victims of rape or incest. Others may have health issues that would put their own lives at risk or simply not have the economic or psychological means to support a child at that time in their lives. Still, the anti-abortion foes will paint these women as monsters. The Conservative forces will misrepresent the point(s) at which ethical doctors will perform an abortion, and will continue to use unflattering semantics and Biblical backing from evangelical sects to support their point of view, irrespective of the wishes of the women, themselves. (I remember Dr. Howard Dean, campaigning in Iowa in 2004, telling us in someone’s back yard in Muscatine, Iowa, that he had gone through the records of his home state of Vermont and there had been NO record of a late-term (after the sixth month) abortion in the state of Vermont ever.  This was in response to a question from the Iowa caucus crowd).

In some states—Mississippi, for example—they are in the ongoing process of passing a fetal heartbeat law that bans abortions as early as six weeks, despite the fact that a U.S. district court has already struck down a law in the same state banning it at 15 weeks. Even if the opponents of legalized and safe abortions do not succeed in overturning the laws, the amount of time that these moves take can have an impact. Once closed, an abortion clinic may not open back up. Says Cecile Richards, former President of Planned Parenthood (currently under budget attack from the White House), “Even if Roe is still the law of the land, whether or not pregnant people can actually access abortion is another question entirely.” To all those individuals who are reading this and “tsk tsk-ing” about abortion, in general, I would recommend that you read “Cider House Rules” by John Irving before  becoming too secure in your position. Irving’s father and grandfather were obstetricians and he charts the drop in female mortality rates that accompanied Roe v. Wade. The safe abortion center in Bettendorf, Iowa, was forced to close some time ago, a result of the Conservative right’s concerted and never-ending attacks on them. With a Republican legislature in Des Moines, the service is no longer available in an area of 350,000 people, which, for the state of Iowa, is among its 3 largest metropolitan areas.

Meanwhile, proposed legal decisions like “June Medical Services v. Gee”  and 2016’s “”Whole Roman’s Health v. Hellerstedt” continue to move forward, challenging the current status quo. The packing of the courts by Trump supporters is not a good thing (think Brett Kavanaugh) and 21 of U.S. states are classified as “hostile” or “very hostile” to abortion rights, while only 4 are “supportive” or “very supportive.” Five states currently have so-called trigger laws that would immediately ban abortion if Roe v. Wade fell. The state of Arkansas has no exceptions for rape or incest and would make performing an abortion a felony punishable by 10 years in prison.

According to the National Institute for Reproductive Health, 422 bills were introduced in 44 states and the District of Columbia, which were aimed at protecting reproductive rights in 2018. One hundred were fully enacted into law. “Public support for Roe v. Wade has never been higher that it is right now” says a former Planned Parenthood leader: “If you are one of the majority of Americans who care about access to safe and legal abortion, now is the time to make your voice heard.” Otherwise, the Conservative plan is to make it so hard to access this currently legal right that it will, in effect, cause the downfall of Roe v. Wade without having to actually legislate it out of existence. In 1976, only 3 years after Roe v. Wade went into effect, the Hyde Amendment blocked federal Medicaid dollars from going toward abortions and the Supreme Court upheld that as constitutional in 1980. In “Planned Parenthood v. Case” the court further determined in that 1992 decision that limitations could be put on abortion as long as they didn’t create “an undue burden. (A blanket right was turned into a circumstantial right.)

Julie Rikelman, Director of U.S. litigation for the Center for Reproductive Rights says, “Even if the Supreme Court never utters the words ‘Roe is now overruled,’ it can do a huge amount of harm.” Are the women of 2020 willing to go back to the days of back-street illegal abortions (one of which left a friend and former classmate of mine dead in her apartment in Iowa City, Iowa, back in 1964? I hope that the young women of the United States start paying attention to this area that DJT is also stirring up and, flying the false flag of Conservative evangelical piety, is attacking as he is attacking most other bulwarks of our Constitutional democracy.

“The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” on HBO Reveals $9 Billion-Dollar Start-Up That Didn’t

Image result for Images for Elizabeth Holmes Elizabeth Holmes

(youtube.com)

The documentary about Theranos, directed by Alex Gidney, showed March 8th, 10th and 13th at SXSW and is now streaming on HBO. It focuses on a $9 billion-dollar start-up in Silicon Valley headed by a 19-year-old Stanford drop-out, Elizabeth Holmes. Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney was responsible for “Taxi to the Dark Side” and “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Beliefs.”

“Fortune” magazine did a June, 2014, cover story on Holmes and Theranos.  Much of the talking about Holmes onscreen is done by Roger Parloff, who wrote the “Fortune” piece. The  lying by Theranos officials  led to 9 charges of wire fraud and 2 counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud against Holmes and her Chief Operating Officer (and former lover) Sonny Balwani. (Holmes had fired Balwani by that point.)

As you listen to the list of heavy hitter investors who were so impressed by a 19-year-old college drop-out that they committed millions to her idea for Theranos, you have to shake your head. The list reads like Who’s Who. Some of them even speak on camera, like Tim Draper, who appears wearing a purple tie adorned with Bit Coin symbols and says he knew Elizabeth from childhood on and was a first investor in Hotmail, Skype and Tesla. General James Mattis bought into the idea. Henry Kissinger was favorably impressed. Warren Buffett was said to have invested $100 million. Famous faces like Maria Shriver, Katie Couric, the Obamas, Serena Williams, George P. Schultz and a host of others are shown with the Golden Girl.

As one Professor at Stanford says (a female), “She aligned herself with certain powerful older men who seemed to succumb to a certain charm.” (Meow). The statement is true, however. Attired in black at all times (black turtleneck, jacket and pants) with long blonde hair and an unnerving stare (she rarely blinks) from preternaturally large blue eyes, she was referred to by her partner, Sonny,” as “the most important inventor of our time” in a reverential, deferential tone.

The concept was that the needle-phobic Elizabeth was going to make it possible for a single finger prick—like that a diabetic would use to test their blood—to take the place of drawing large vials of blood in a lab. The small drop of blood would go into a mini-vial that would, in turn, go into a machine dubbed Edison, appromixately the size of a computer modem.

Inside Edison the blood would be tested, could detect infection and dispense antibiotics. Holmes seems to have envisioned herself to be the Apple of medicine and vowed to have the access to such Edison labs within 5 miles of each person’s home in America, which was going to happen through a partnership with Walgreen’s.

Holmes also alluded to her “invention” in what Parloff referred to as “comically vague” ways, saying, “What, exactly, happens in the box is treated as a state secret.” She also said that she wanted to remain a private company (initially, the company had 700 employees in a modern building with a secret third-floor lab, where, alas, the blood testing was actually being done using more standard methods by hand.

This was because Edison didn’t really work as advertised. When asked about taking the company public, Holmes said she preferred to remain private because, “It’s allowed us to not have to talk about what we’re doing, until it’s done.”

When the testing began to be done at Walgreen’s stores, the Edison was still non-functional, so routine blood draws were done by Walgreen personnel who had to be trained by phlebotomist Serena Stewart to do those traditional blood draws, despite the Big Come-On of a relatively small drop of blood being able to work in an Edison mini-lab. Holmes successfully lobbied the state of Arizona to allow patients to order their own lab tests in HB2645 and also managed to get FDA approval for Edison to do one small test for the herpes virus, but the 200 tests advertised never really got off the ground.

And, what is more disturbing, patients who had chronic conditions and showed up for routine bloodwork at a Walgreen’s store experienced incorrect results, which then had to be double-checked using routine labs and routine lab practices. There were also challenges to the patents.

Dr. Ian Gibbon, a Cambridge PhD with “a wealth of knowledge” whose name appeared on the patents (below Elizabeth Holmes’ name) was going to have to testify in the patent case. He was so distraught that he committed suicide. His wife, Rochelle, said “He was so distraught over the patent misappropriation case that he killed himself.” Mrs. Gibbon never heard anything from Holmes or Theranos after her husband’s death, other than a request  to drop the papers involving his work off at the front desk.

As the lab equipment malfunctioned and those in the tile world of the lab watched the start-up sliding towards failure, some of them became extremely disillusioned with the paranoia and secrecy. The workers were fudging results and re-running data until they got the results they wanted. Also, the tests for such diseases as hepatitis, prostate cancer and syphilis that were not being accurately diagnosed, put those patients at risk The results were not matching up with the results of other more traditional laboratories.

Finally, lab associate Erika Cheung decided, “Enough is enough” and went in to talk to COO Sonny Balwani. She was basically told “Just sit down and do your job.” She quit, got another job, moved and was very distressed when she was served papers that threatened her if she spoke about her time at Theranos. Since she had little money, her only recourse, ultimately, was to write a letter to the supervisory group that had control over the Theranos labs. That group was CMS. CMS then did a surprise inspection and withdrew the Theranos lab’s permit to do tests.

Another disillusioned former employee was George P. Shultz’s grandson, who had joined Holmes and was working in the laboratory. He quit and began talking to a “Wall Street Journal” reporter, John Carreyrou, who had received a tip that the Theranos Edison project was faltering.

The 94-year-old George Schultz, who served 3 presidents in 4 Cabinet posts, including Secretary of State, was a fervent admirer of Holmes and, initially, when his grandson expressed skepticism, had said, “They can’t tell me you’re stupid, but I think you’re wrong.”

By the end of the younger Schultz’s time, George Schultz commends his grandson for his attempt at transparency and relates an almost comic scene when a hard-nosed lawyer (once in charge of hushing up Harvey Weinstein’s women) tried so hard to lean on his grandson that Schultz separated the attorney from his grandson, sending them to different rooms in his house and acting as intermediary. George P. Schultz said he was afraid that his wife would hit the attorney with the fireplace poker, as he was acting “like an animal” towards their grandson.

The younger Schultz said he had incurred $300,000 to $400,000 in lawyer fees. The mounting bills had his parents thinking about selling their house to pay it. But, as Theranos secrets and lies unraveled further and the truth was revealed, the pressure on young Schultz waned as the house of Theranos cards came tumbling down.

I wondered, “What has happened to Elizabeth Holmes since this documentary was made?”

The Internet says she settled with the SEC, was handed a $500,000 fine, and there is a condition that she cannot be the officer of a public company for 10 years. Now living in the San Francisco Bay area in a luxury apartment, she is engaged to her 8-years-younger fiancé, Billy Evan (heir to a hotel fortune), according to “Vanity Fair,” and may be shopping for more investor cash. She and Sonny face some additional court appearance, supposedly in April.

 

One quote that particularly struck me, because it could have been spoken by any number of convincing liars was this one from Roger Parloff, who watched with amazement as Elizabeth Holmes, rather than going on the defensive against the expose article that the “Wall Street Journal” ran detailing how the scam worked, went off to a Board of Fellows Honorary Ceremony with the Harvard Medical School. Said Parloff, “This was real lunacy.  What was coming out of her mouth (on television) was not adding up to reality as you and I know it…She was a zealot, blind to the reality of what was happening.”

The question at documentary’s end remains this: Did Elizabeth Holmes lie intentionally, with cold, calculating intent, or was she just trying to ‘fake it till she made it?’”

Image result for Images for Elizabeth Holmes

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