CHAPTER FOUR (1)
THE MAN BEHIND WHAT BECAME PAUL BACH-Y-RITA'S "BRAINPORT".
In this morning's edition of the New York Times (21 April 2010) weekly columnist and extraordinary biologist Olivia Judson had an, as usual, fascinating article entitled BRAIN DAMAGE that's the best wake-up call I've seen to date about the problems caused by obesity. In the article, Ms. Judson cites two recent studies that claim that fat in the brain can cause all kinds of damage, including Alzheimer's. She then goes on to show how fat in the body can cause other devastating and even life-threatening ailments. However she never once claims that brains and bodies are the cause of the damage that fat produces. Why not? Because, just like "guns don't kill people - people kill people", brain's don't make themselves fat, nor do bodies make themselves fat. People eat things that cause both. It is also a fact that brains don't change themselves, as Norman Doidge claimed (see CHAPTER THREE)... people change their brains... They do it all the time... And It is also a fact that brains don't see.. as my friend Paul Bach-y-Rita claimed... (SEE CHAPTER THREE)... People see!
We will now trace both of these fallacies about what the brain does and doesn't do from their origin.... Paul's lifework! - which of course is based on the lifework of others who preceded him. But we will specifically trace the origin of the BrainPort - which is what Doidge chronicled in his best-seller "THE BRAIN THAT CHANGES ITSELF".
What was it that sparked Paul's brilliant insight that would lead to the invention of the BrainPort? Let's begin with these two excerpts from the video I shot of Paul and his associates Kurt Kazcmareck and Ed Fisher on the first day I visited his Lab on the UW campus in January of 2003:
NOTE: Kurt's video is only a little more than 30 seconds long, but for reasons beyond me, YouTube chose to add an additional 30 seconds or so of blank content... If you're in need of a little rest time watch the blank content... But I recommend you just move on the the next video.
Statements made during political campaigns are often fraught with hyperbole. And most are forgotten- as they should be. However there is one that remains in the memory banks of most of us who witnessed the following event, even though it occurred more than 20 years ago. During the 1988 race for the U.S. Vice-Presidency, Democratic Senator Lloyd Bentsen responded to a statement his opponent Republican Senator Dan Quayle made, in which he likened himself to President John F. Kennedy with these words:
"Senator, I knew Jack Kenndedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine, and you're no Jack Kennedy."
So it is, that I must preface what follows by my own similar admission - as obvious as it may be:
Ladies and gentlemen, I knew Paul Bach-y-Rita, Paul Bach-y-Rita was friend of mine, and I'm no Paul Bach-y-Rita. Nevertheless, everything I now write is true:
By July of 2003, the website I had built for Paul which contained the clips you've already seen, bore fruit - in the form of a $50,000 no-interest loan from a venture capitalist. Since the University had rules that disallowed entities for which they held patents to begin commercial ventures on the UW Campus, the money allowed Paul to set up shop off campus and begin making his BrainPort dream come true. It also allowed Paul to actually pay me, at least a small weekly stipend, for the work I'd already been doing for him for the previous six months as a friend; which, in turn, allowed me to move to Madison to continue the work without having to drive 150 miles and back every other week to my own place in another Wisconsin town.
In March of 2004, a little more than a year after I had joined the group in its in-depth study of what made the BrainPort bring about what can only be described as a therapeutic effect -- a phenomenon that was a complete surprise to Paul and his staff when it was observed by them (principally with Cheryl Schiltz as their subject) - Paul called me late one night and told me he had just checked himself into a hospital. The persistent cough he'd been plagued with for months and the preliminary tests they made after he'd arrived at the hospital , showed that he had Lung Cancer. Understand please, that my friend Paul was one of the healthiest people I had ever known. When the weather permitted, he would leave his lovely home on top of a hill in Madison WI, get on his bike,ride it all the way down to his office and back up again at the end of the day. He had never smoked, he always watched what what he ate, and his lovely wife and two adoring children also watched over him. Yet, within 24-hours of his call to me, he'd be told that he only had six months to live.