Long Lost Page 52

’’I only have ten minutes,’’ she said by way of explanation.

’’I thought it was fifteen.’’

’’I changed my mind. Thanks for the donation.’’

’’I need to ask you some questions about Sam Collins.’’

Schneider swallowed the bite. ’’So your colleague said. You know all about patient-client confidentiality, right? So I can skip that speech?’’

’’Please.’’

’’He\'s dead, so maybe you should tell me your interest in him.’’

’’I understand he committed suicide.’’

’’You don\'t need me to tell you that.’’

’’Is that common in patients with Huntington\'s?’’

’’Do you know what Huntington\'s disease is?’’

’’I know it\'s genetic.’’

’’It\'s an inherited genetic neurological disorder.’’ She said this between bites. ’’The disease does not kill you directly, but as the disorder progresses, it leads to a great deal of life-ending complications like pneumonia and heart failure and you-don\'t-want-to-know. HD messes with the physical, the psychological, the cognitive. It is not a pretty disorder. So, yes, suicide is not uncommon. Some studies show that one in four give it a try with about seven percent being successful, ironic as the term \'successful\' is when discussing suicide.’’

’’And that was the case with Sam Collins?’’

’’He had depression before being diagnosed. It\'s hard to say what came first. HD usually begins with a physical disorder, but there are plenty of times it starts with the psychiatric or cognitive. So his depression could have actually been the first signs of HD misdiagnosed. Doesn\'t really matter. Either way he is dead due to HD suicide is just another life-ending complication.’’

’’I understand that Huntington\'s has to be inherited.’’

’’Yes.’’

’’And that if one of the parents has it, the child has a fifty-fifty chance.’’

’’To keep it simple, I will say, yes, that\'s accurate.’’

’’And if the parent doesn\'t have it, the offspring won\'t either. That\'s it. The family line is clean.’’

’’Go on.’’

’’So that means one of Sam Collins\'s parents had it.’’

’’That\'s correct. His mother lived to be in her eighties with no signs of Huntington\'s, so it probably came from his father, who died young and thus never had a chance to display any symptoms.’’

I leaned closer. ’’Did you test Sam Collins\'s children?’’

’’That\'s not really your concern.’’

’’I\'m speaking specifically of Rick Collins. Who is also dead. Murdered, in fact.’’

’’At the hands of a terrorist, according to the news reports.’’

’’Yes.’’

’’Yet you think his father\'s diagnosis with Huntington\'s disease has something to do with his murder?’’

’’I do.’’

Freida Schneider took another bite and shook her head.

’’Rick Collins has a son,’’ I said.

’’I\'m aware of that.’’

’’And he may have a daughter.’’

That stopped her mid-bite. ’’Excuse me?’’

I wasn\'t sure how to play this. ’’Rick Collins may not have known she was alive.’’

’’You want to elaborate?’’

’’Not really,’’ I said. ’’We only have ten minutes.’’

’’True.’’

’’So?’’

She sighed. ’’Rick Collins was tested, yes.’’

’’And?’’

’’The blood test shows the number of CAG repeats in each of the HTT alleles.’’

I just looked at her.

’’Right, never mind. In short, the results sadly were positive. We don\'t consider the blood test a diagnosis because it could be years, decades even, before the onset of symptoms. But Rick Collins was already exhibiting chorea basically, jerky movements you can\'t really control. He asked us to keep it confidential. We of course agreed.’’

I thought about that. Rick had Huntington\'s. He had symptoms already what would his last years have looked like? His father had asked himself that question and ended his life.

’’Was Rick\'s son tested?’’

’’Yes, Rick insisted, which I confess is a bit unconventional. There is a lot of debate over testing, especially with a child. I mean, let\'s say you find out that a young boy will eventually contract this disorder isn\'t that a terrible burden to live with? Or is it better to know now so you live life to the fullest? And if you\'re positive for HD, should you have children yourself who will have a fifty-fifty chance of contracting the illness and even if you know that, isn\'t it still a life worth leading? The ethics are fairly mind-boggling.’’

’’But Rick tested his son?’’

’’Yes. Rick was a reporter through and through. He didn\'t believe in not knowing. The son, thankfully, was negative.’’

’’That must have been a relief to him.’’

’’Yes.’’

’’Do you know the CryoHope Center?’’

She thought about it. ’’They do research and storage, I think. Mostly stem cell banking and the like, right?’’

’’After Rick Collins came to see you, he visited them. Any clue why?’’

’’No.’’

’’How about the Save the Angels charity? Have you heard of it?’’

Schneider shook her head.

’’There is no cure for HD, correct?’’ I said.

’’Correct.’’

’’How about through stem cell research?’’

’’Wait, Mr. Bolitar, let\'s back up. You said Rick Collins may have a daughter.’’

’’Yes.’’

’’Do you mind explaining that to me?’’

’’Did he tell you that he had a daughter who died ten years ago in a car crash?’’

’’No. Why would he?’’

I mulled that over. ’’When Rick\'s body was found in Paris, there was blood at the scene. The DNA test showed it belonged to a daughter.’’

’’But you just said his daughter is dead. I\'m not following.’’

’’Neither am I yet. But tell me about stem cell research.’’

She shrugged. ’’Highly speculative at this stage. You could theoretically replace damaged neurons in the brain by transplanting stem cells from cord blood. We\'ve seen some encouraging signs in animals, but it hasn\'t been subject to human clinical trials.’’

’’Still. If you\'re dying and desperate . . .’’

A woman came into the cafeteria. ’’Dr. Schneider?’’

She held up a finger, downed the last bite of sandwich, rose. ’’For the dying and desperate, yes, anything is possible. Everything from miracle cures to, well, suicide. That\'s your ten minutes, Mr. Bolitar. Come back sometime and I\'ll give you a tour of the facility. You\'ll be surprised by the strength and good work. Thank you for the donation, and good luck with whatever you\'re trying to do.’’


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