The Theranos Reflection
More than just a single tiny drop of blood to save American healthcare
A decade ago around this time, my older brother and I were walking along a pond. It was a chilly morning when both of us quietly enjoyed the first (and the last) companionship, talking about his family business, his three children, and a plan after retirement. I grew up with his children in Toyota City, a motor city known as that of Toyota Motor Company and intended to hear some retirement plan at the age of 65.
He had already reached the retirement age but kept working as hard as he did, just as my father did before handing over to my brother. Within six months, I received a notification from his wife that he was diagnosed with blood cancer, being hospitalized in a local medical facility. The diagnosis led me to ask my sister-in-law, “What happened? Didn’t he take a comprehensive check-up once a year?” Her reply was out of ordinary.
He took a blood-testing with a full vial every year but didn’t bother looking at the results of the test. The outcome came through the mail within two weeks of testing day. A certified inspector from the local clinic examined the blood. The inspector marked the irregular patterns by indicating the asterisk. No one could miss the check mark as long as one pays attention to the results.
The diagnosis was coincidental with my submission of a business plan for the entrepreneurship contest for U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. I had no specific business plan but turned in a five-six page plan of a blood-testing startup to the contest. With iconic ambassador and dedicated sponsorship from Ernst & Young, my paper went on to the semi-final of contest stage.
The stage was joined by a group of famous investors, entrepreneurs, and audience. Being invited to the stage, I gave a short presentation to the start-up experts who said nothing against plan. The outcome was disappointing. My plan didn’t go to the final stage. A long sad period of days with disappointment began but eventually it was gone, until today.
On January 3rd 2022, the newspaper covered a story of Elizabeth Homes, founder of Theranos, a Silicon Valley blood-testing startup. A jury found her guilty of fraud of four counts which add themselves up to 80 years of imprisonment, if sentenced. If she pleads guilty, she will be spending the rest of her life in prison.
Her original idea before the full-scale deployment was brilliant. The blood-testing solution could make health care in America more effective and efficient. The technology behind the game-changer required a single tiny drop of blood from patients who had reportedly been deceived by Ms. Holms. The initial attempt received financial resources from wealthy backers who had also been deceived about its prospects.
The Theranos idea attracted more than $1bn in capital, which is unicorn at the present day, to balloon its expectation by far to reach $9bn in its growth path. The good idea could go to the roof. Instead, as the newspaper describes, the owner of blood-testing scheme dogged its own grave deeper.
She should have backed off along the way. If the courtroom report is correct, accusing her of intentionally lying about the future of the Theranos capabilities, she crossed the legal line to the fraud. The case disappointed weathly investors by huge scale. The financial resource is gone. The healthcare problem remains unsolved.
So what is the implication of all this?
Well, the original idea came from the fact that the health care industry in America was not in the good shape. The medical expense was high. Stressful environment at workplaces gets worse. Food was not good, either. The problem was clear.
In realty, it takes a little bit more than just a single tiny drop of blood. It is not as huge as a decision like money over health. That was a too big a deal to ponder over it in a daily life. The solution can be found in some ordinary citizen like my father-in-law in Tokyo. He retired from his work more than two decades ago.
He made up his mind to walk around his house every morning. He has kept atit. An alarm wakes him up. With his pedometer in his pocker, the daily routine of walking continues to this day. The counts read an average of 7,000 steps. Every morning, rain or snow, he would walk around in the morning.
The outcome is astonishing. For more than two decades, his blood-testing has not turned negative at all, not even once. The marker has never gone beyond the standard range. It doesn’t have to be a huge bet. It just take a single mind-set to walk around the house every day.