His 55-year-old body was gradually shutting down. His muscles twitched uncontrollably. He could no longer talk, so he scribbled notes to communicate with his wife, Valerie.
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease — an incurable deterioration of the nervous system that spares the cognitive parts of the brain, leaving its victims sharply aware as they slowly die.
The doctors told him there was no way to reverse the disease — no drugs, no surgeries, no other therapies.
Tom refused to listen.
He had been a successful real estate developer in Atlanta, a hard charger who always got things done his way.
Now, he spent most of his time in a makeshift study above the garage, searching hour after hour.
Valerie could hear Tom's muffled movements. She rarely interrupted him. After nearly 29 years of marriage, it pained her to see him like this.
She knew there was little hope, but there was no point in arguing. She threw herself into the final preparations for their daughter's wedding and left Tom alone to search.
In the spring of 2003, he found http://www.biomark-intl.com .
BioMark International offered a stem cell injection for a variety of illnesses, including Parkinson's disease, muscular dystrophy, depression and ALS.
"All ALS research now cites the promise of stem cells as the only answer," the website said.
Tom had been reading about stem cells for months and knew them to be the next frontier of medicine, the primordial cells that could become unblemished tissue of any type. He was convinced they could replace the deteriorating nerve cells in his body.
He pored over BioMark's material, dozens of pages of patient testimonials, scientific references and news reports on the vast promise of stem cells.
Could this be his chance to be reborn?
Valerie could hear her husband's printer churning out page after page.
"It is worth a try," he scrawled in the margin of one printout.
ENTREPRENEURS ON SCIENCE'S FRONTIER