David Salzman's valiant fight for what truly matters
By: Diana Furchtgott-Roth | 11/10/11 8:05 PM
It was December 2006, just before Christmas, when my friend David Salzman called. "I have bile duct cancer, and they've given me only three months to live."
That was almost five years ago. At 1 am on Saturday morning, David, age 53, a Maryland entrepreneur, succumbed to an infection, dying at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, with his mother, Nancy Salzman, next to him.
He was one of the longest-surviving patients with bile duct cancer. As well as his mother, he leaves his wife, Beth Kevles; two children, Michael, 16, and Joel, 14; and his brothers, Andy and Jimmy.
For David, our health insurance system worked. As an entrepreneur, he had small-business insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield. It didn't drop him and never questioned his care. David had only praise for Blue Cross.
I met David in Washington, D.C., in 1986. With two degrees in physics, a B.S. from Yale and a Ph.D, from the University of Chicago, he could have taken the usual academic route. Instead, he founded startups to develop new products.
One of his first companies was Polychip, where he pioneered proximity chip-to-chip communication, which dramatically increases the data rate between chips by stacking them on top of each other.
David sold that patent to Sun Microsystems, later bought by Oracle, which now has a government contract using the technology to develop a new generation of supercomputers.
Another of his companies, LightSpin Technologies, uses new ways to manipulate, detect, and generate light. When David died, he was developing ways to use light waves to find land mines. He considered this vital because of the danger posed by hidden mines.
One of his partners, Eric Harmon, told me, "You shake the ground with a loud noise, and then use the pattern of the sound waves to find the land mines."
Right until his death, David was active in community meetings about the new Montgomery County rail line, the Purple Line. He was intensely concerned with the way politics were overcoming science, and showed how studies justifying the project were artificially inflating ridership and energy savings and minimizing the noise levels.
David was more than just a scientist, he was a modern Renaissance man, able to enjoy literature, opera, and politics with equal knowledge and gusto. That's why my husband and I asked him to be the godfather to our third son, Godfrey, hoping a little magic would rub off.
"There wasn't anything that could be learned that David didn't want to learn," his mother told me on Wednesday.
This extended to his cancer treatments. David's college buddy, Phil Schiff, organized a team of friends to drive David to Hopkins for his weekly treatments so that Beth could spend more time with the boys. I was honored to be on the team.
At the hospital, David would go over the printouts of the blood tests, questioning the nurses and technicians. He chose the most aggressive treatments possible, overcoming pain and side effects, anything to have more time with his family.
Thoughts of his family spurred him on. David kept going by trying to survive until specific events such as Michael's bar mitzvah, Joel's bar mitzvah, and then, the final goal, Michael's 16th birthday on Sept. 23.
Beth told me on Thursday, "David did not want to be remembered for his cancer. Cancer was what he had, not what he was." On the drives to Hopkins we'd talk not about cancer treatments, but about how our various children were doing in school and what they would do over the summer.
Because, in the end, that's what matters.