IN CELEBRATION OF STEM CELL AWARENESS DAY
By Don C. Reed
I was sitting in a goldfish bowl: more accurately the goldfish bowl, the glass-walled conference room of the California stem cell agency, 210 King Street, San Francisco.
I was autographing a copy of a book, “STEM CELL BATTLES: Proposition 71 and Beyond” with intentions of leaving it for guests to read.
October 14th is international Stem Cell Awareness Day. I had asked my publisher to let that be the official launch day for my new book, “STEM CELL BATTLES: Proposition 71 and Beyond”* and they had managed to get some books in my hands, although the wide publication date was two months later—December 6th.
An author gets a certain amount of books (in my case, 25) for his personal use. These I brought with me, as gifts for the first 25 people who attended.
It took 20 years to live this book, plus a year and a half to write it.
And now there it was: solid, tangible, real.
The border was bright yellow around a blue background, and a green outline of California, with a star where the stem cell agency was headquartered.
Four people: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger leaning on a crutch (ski accident) but beaming and full of strength as he shook hands with my son, Roman Reed. Behind them was me, holding a copy of the speech I had just given (this was the day Governor Schwarzenegger authorized a $150 million loan to the program), and Bob Klein, who inspired and led the California stem cell program
Inside, a surprise. With the high costs of color for printing, the publisher (World Scientific Publishing, Inc.) had told me there could be no color in the book. I understood. Every picture increased the cost, especially since I wanted lots of pictures, as many scientists and patient advocates as I could possibly cram in—these are heroes to me, and I got as many in the book as I could. So the pictures would have to be all black and white.
So I gasped in delight when I first opened the book. Color shone out– like the moment in WIZARD OF OZ when Dorothy leaves black and white Kansas and steps out into Technicolor.
It was a surprise from the publisher. Headquartered in Singapore, World Scientific Publishing is best known for publishing the works of the Nobel laureates. I was their only non-scientist. Paul Knoepfler, the first science/blogger, had pointed me to them.
Someday I want to go to Singapore, and see Biopolis, the city of science. When I do, I hope to shake hands with my editor, Sook Cheng Lim, and Lim Sok Ching and Yee Hong Khoo and Tan Siew Lan, and maybe New Jersey’s Taofang Dai—people whose efforts built this book!
Is not a book a small immortality? Even after its author is dead and dust, the book may be read again, life squashed down into print, ready to spring to life anew for any who will open the pages.
The forward by Christopher Reeve had been written more than ten years ago, saved up against this day. So many times our champion’s words had crossed my mind since the terrible day my son became paralyzed in a college football accident:
“One day, Roman and I will stand up from our wheelchairs, and walk away from them forever.”
Cure had not come in time for the paralyzed Superman, but the flame of his faith still guides our way…
I had my lucky grey suit on, the one I always wear when there is fighting to be done: like when it is time to go to Sacramento to argue for paralysis cure funding, or to support a research project at a meeting of the agency.
But today there would be no fighting; today was joy.
People began to fill the “Goldfish Bowl” : outstanding citizens like:
Dr. Ted Love, biomed entrepreneur and scientist, dedicated to the defeat of sickle cell anemia;
Adrienne Shapiro, a patient advocate, systematically attacking that same dread disease;
Hank Ablidy, stem cell researcher almost since the field began, a pioneer;
Karen Miner, paralyzed 21 years ago, my sister-in-struggle in the fight for research cure;
Senator Art Torres, vice-chair of the oversight board, and a champion of progressive politics for decades, beginning with working with Cesar Chavez;
Jonathan Thomas, current chair of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee;
Amy Lewis, part of the Prop 71 effort from the very beginning and with CIRM still;
Jeff Sheehy, just re-elected to another term as board member, and a champion HIV/AIDS activist;
Patricia Olson, scientist and “Guardian of the Gates” of CIRM science, making sure the research is on target and on task;
Sandy Pantages, Fremont Librarian—37 years ago, she helped me write my first book, by allowing a storage room in the library to be my research headquarters—my three year old daughter Desiree would read her little books and so would I.
Fifty people came, more than I had books to give away.
I wished so much Bob Klein could have been there, but he was in an airplane somewhere, as is so frequently the case.
Son Roman was also too slammed with meeting obligations to attend.
But here it was: Stem Cell Awareness Day. I was allowed to do a reading from my book in the center of the stem cell universe. I did not sell anything; even the cookies provided were baked by Gloria Reed, beloved wife of 46 years. For me, this was a chance to say “Thank you”, to the women and men of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. I gave away my books, signed autographs till my fingers cramped, smiled till I broke all the cameras.
As in all life, of course, there was an edge of sadness; I think of CIRM as my extended family, and we were moving. This beautiful place would not be our headquarters much longer. The foresight of former Mayor Gavin Newsom had negotiated ten years of free rent for CIRM, but now that contract was over.
Sometime after Thanksgiving the California stem cell agency will relocate to Jack London’s city, Kenny “the snake” Stabler’s city, Oakland. (Did you know the legendary quarterback was a stem cell supporter? Yep. He and I even spoke together at a spinal cord injury research dinner one time!)
No one knows tomorrow. Maybe there will be another stem cell book, another signing in the new site; maybe more funding will be found to make this great organization a permanent leader in the fight against chronic disease. I hope so, and will work to make both happen.
But this we have for sure, this memory for sharing: Stem Cell Awareness Day, October 14th, 2015.
Don C. Reed is the author of STEM CELL BATTLES: Proposition 71 and Beyond”, available for pre-order at Amazon.com, widely available December 6th.