In 2006, a Jackson Pollock painting purportedly sold for one hundred and forty million dollars. The private sale was never confirmed and the precise whereabouts of the Pollock remains shrouded in mystery.
I looked at the wall at the framed letter sitting next to an image of a beautiful Mark Rothko painting. It was one of those museum four-panel cards with a separate inner space for writing. The card was cut in half with the front Rothko image on the left, and the inside writing component on the right. I didn’t read the letter often, but I knew what it said. It was there. It always seemed to make sense:
What do we strive for?
What do we need in life?
What things do we as human beings yearn for?
Success? Contentment? A Job? Art? Family? Love?
“BAM!” I felt a fist hit me in the jaw and fell to the ground. Lucky for me, I was with my compadre Dr. Alexiev Shaw, former Israeli defense engineer and master of Krav Maga. Or should I say, unlucky for the three goons who thought they were going to make out like bandits right outside of the Red Rooster—Harlem’s latest trendy home-cooking restaurant. I never quite understood how Shaw got tied up with the Israeli Ministry of Defense, but he was always a bit of a mystery. In his grey Armani suit and blue Ferragamo tie, the six-foot-two-inch tall, olive-skinned Shaw looked somewhat subdued. We were about to present our latest startup venture—MATAL Inc.—to one of the hottest VCs in the world, but now that meeting was seriously in jeopardy.
“Guys, I will give you one chance to step back and leave as quickly as you came,” said Shaw with a very calm, French-accented voice. The goons just laughed!
“What the fuck you gonna do?” said an over-tattooed bandana-wearing goon wielding a switchblade.
“Yea!” said another equally tattooed goon holding a crow bar.
“Alex, just leave him alone.” I cringed. I did not want him to do what he did the last time. By the last time, I was referring to when “the gang of twelve” jumped him last spring. Each gang member wound up with permanent injuries, only Shaw was left unscathed.
“This fucker can’t do anything to us,” said a chuckling third goon. This third guy pulled out an even bigger, badder knife and began to move ever so slightly towards Alex.
Within a nanosecond, Alex moved opposite the third’s lunge, spun, and grabbed him from behind in a headlock, and with one rapid jerk broke the sucker’s neck, then twisted his arm. The blade clanged to the ground, falling alongside the now motionless assailant. The two other goons surrounded their fellow gang member, both simultaneously raised their weapons, one to his left, and the other to his right.
“You’ve got a problem, motherfucker. You’re gonna pay for that,” grunted the over-tattooed first goon.
“Yes,” snarled the second, “you can’t do that to us!” as he proceeded to raise his blade.
“By us, are you referring to both of you? I think you underestimate your opponent,” said Alex. With what looked like two twists, one lunge, and a kick, both goons were doubled over in pain—one flat on his face, the other fully supine.
“Matt, are you okay?” asked a concerned Alex.
I looked back at Shaw standing there after this ordeal, and it came to me. Perhaps it was the combination of his martial arts with his large muscular stature. No, it was the addition of his recently changed hairdo. Shaw had always parted his dark black hair and combed it behind his ears. Not now. He had let it grow, and now he combed his near-shoulder-length hair straight back in a ponytail. Yet his body, underneath the jacket and tie, was Schwarzenegger-esque. The entire package was more like Steven Seagal in Under Siege.
Seagal played a former Navy Seal serving as a cook on a military ship attacked by terrorists. Seagal—with his aikido jabs, kicks, twists, and spins—made chop suey out of the terrorists. And Shaw was the spitting image of Seagal. Perhaps the only difference in appearance when compared side by side to Seagal was a very slight twist to Shaw’s nose from some sort of brawl he preferred not to talk about. He originally told me he was into “jujutsu” to stay fit. But finally, after five years of our friendship, he confessed. It was not jujutsu at all. It was Krav Maga, the Israeli ancient art of self-defense. But those Israelis really didn’t play around. Krav Maga was not for fun, it was for survival. It was life or death, and Shaw knew how to survive, better than anyone I had ever met.
“I’m okay. How about you?” I responded. I knew Alex was fine, but I just had to ask. I also knew the three goons who attacked us were not okay, to put it mildly. But we had a meeting to go to, one that could change everything. Alex extended a hand and helped me to my feet. We both walked to the door, and he proceeded to open it as I made my way unobtrusively towards the bathroom in the far left-hand corner of the restaurant. I looked at him and said it.
“Has anyone ever told you that you bear a striking resemblance to Steven Seagal?”
“I have heard that once or twice,” Alex smugly responded.
I chuckled and then I said it: “Seagal for Shaw!” I was always poking fun at his last name. Substituting “Shaw” for sure. Now I had something else to poke fun at. I opened the door marked men, walked in, and looked in the mirror. My jaw was starting to swell, and my hair was disheveled. I cupped the water from the sink and splashed it on my face.
“MD,” I said to myself. “You have an important meeting to go to.” Again, I poured more water all over my face, then my hair, using my fingers to brush my drenched hair backwards in some semblance of what I thought would be a cool, entrepreneurial look.
“That’s better,” I thought. I proceeded to dry my face and my dripping wet hair with a paper towel, then straightened my black Saks Fifth Avenue V-neck T-shirt and fixed the collar on my Brooks Brothers herringbone blazer.
“Ready,” I said to myself as I made my way back toward Alex standing at the front with the maître d’.
“Dr. Dawson, this is Mr. Fredrick Morgan.” Alex made the introductions. Morgan was a tall, slender grey-haired gentleman, wearing a blue pinstripe suit. He must have been in his mid-seventies, and his demeanor was cool. Morgan Capital Associates was the largest venture capital fund on the West Coast. Morgan’s last four investments all had returns of greater than $5 billion. And I mean billions with a capital B. If you scored a deal with Morgan, success was almost always assured.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Morgan,” I replied. “I’ve heard so much about you.” He was the senior partner and founder of Morgan Capital Associates. The VC firm itself had a net worth of over $50 billion. Everybody knew Morgan Capital, but for every one hundred proposals they looked at, only one received funding. “What a lucky one percent,” I thought. Just about every startup Morgan invested in turned into gold. I knew that if our MATAL, Inc., did a deal with him we would be fully funded, and our novel artificial valve implantion system would become a reality.
“The pleasure is mine, Dr. Dawson,” said Mr. Morgan. “I’ve heard so much about you as well.”
The hostess proceeded to seat us in the back corner, a quiet table as requested. We each began to look over the menu.
“Dr. Dawson, please tell me how you got started down this road,” said Morgan.
I was certain, Mr. Morgan already knew a fair amount about my partner and me. One Google search of “Matthew Dawson, MD, New York” would tell it all, and I was not good at talking about myself. This kind of stuff always made me uncomfortable.
“Let me tell you about Dr. Dawson,” proudly said Alex. “Dr. Dawson, or shall I say MD, is one of the most humble guys I know. So, let me give you his dossier. He was born and bred on the North Shore of Long Island and attended Johns Hopkins, where he received his PhD in biomedical engineering as well as his MD degree. He trained in cardiology at Stanford under the world-renowned interventionalist Dr. Arthur Smillar. He began his inventing career during his training at Stanford, working on several areas of coronary artery interventions, three of which were acquired by Johnson and Johnson, Abbott Labs, and Boston Scientific. From there he started working on applying little metal springs—which he removed from the inside of ballpoint pens—into blocked coronary arteries to keep them open. This was the predecessor of the “coronary stent.” His most recent breakthrough came together with my assistance, when we applied magnetized wires to form the stent and compared it to the standard bare-metal variety. His magnetic version worked much better! A patent was filed and the rest is history. Magnetostent, Inc., was acquired by J&J for an undisclosed amount, but I can tell you that “undisclosed amount” was north of a ‘C-note.”’ Alex chuckled.
Alex was clearly trying to make a joke. A C-note was slang for $100, and that wouldn’t pay for a halfway decent bottle of wine on this menu. In reality, Magnetostent was sold for over $500 million, of which I received 10 percent. Not too bad a payday for that simple idea. “Too bad I didn’t just stash the cash under my mattress,” I muttered inside my head. Then I had to open my mouth before I was entirely embarrassed.
“Alex, that’s enough. Please don’t bore our guest,” I interjected.
“Drs. Dawson and Shaw, I am well aware of both your achievements. In fact, I may know more than you think. Number one in your class at Hopkins, right, Dawson? Finished cardiology and interventional cardiology training in half the time at Stanford. Isn’t that correct? Met your wife, Shari, during your internship at New York Hospital. Have two kids, Jason and Bridgette. Isn’t that also correct?
“Hey, how the hell do you know all that? Who are you, the FBI?” I said in a somewhat irritated tone.
“Sorry, Dr. Dawson, but I have to know everything about anyone I may be contemplating doing business with. And you, Dr. Alexiev Shaw—your mother was Russian and your father of French and Scottish descent. You grew up in Marseille and immigrated to Haifa, where you worked in Professor Saul Bodnick’s research laboratory at the Technion. Your project on molecular clues to atherosclerosis won you a full scholarship to MIT. You are also a member of the elite operative unit of the Israel Defense Forces known as the Sayeret Matkal. The same unit that was part of the July 1976 Operation Thunderbolt, better known as Operation Entebbe, that rescued over one hundred Air France passengers hijacked to Uganda by Palestinian terrorists. I know you are not just any ordinary doctor, but a magna cum laude graduate from MIT, where you not only achieved your bachelor’s in engineering but your PhD in the combined fields of nanotechnology, robotics, and reparative cardiology. Once you met Dawson, that’s when the real chemistry started.”
I did not respond, just paused for a minute and thought to myself that Morgan was right on the money. Alex and I are a perfect pair. I have the crazy ideas, he makes them a reality. If my concepts don’t work, he makes them work. And if they do work, he makes them work better.
“The area of structural heart is my primary focus, and your artificial valve implant system is genius!” said Morgan. “This will revolutionize aortic valve replacements. That is, or course, if it works.”
Transcutaneous aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, is a procedure that allows a patient the ability to get an aortic valve replacement without open-heart surgery. My system is the answer to the problem of how to safely access the heart. Not by going around the aorta, as was first performed, nor by going directly through the ventricle, as it is currently being done, but by something completely different. Safer, simpler, and different—always the way to make a better mouse trap! I proceeded to reach into my left pants pocket and pulled out what to the outside observer would have been a jumbled-up set of wires and plastic, but to me was my latest and greatest innovation. I had the concepts and Alex made it a reality, tooling everything according to specifications.
“Voilà!” I said. “This is it. The MATAL system.” I proceeded to unravel the system in order to demonstrate. “MATAL stands for Mechanical Aortic Transvalvular Axial Longitudinal system, or MATAL for short! The system consists of a long, soft, flexible guide wire, which traverses the patient’s malfunctioning valve. The guide wire incorporates my patented rotational outer coating, together with the ‘launchable,’ low-profile transcutaneous valve.” As I opened it, I pointed to the valve that traversed the wire and rotated in my hand. I simulated a tight, or stenotic, diseased-aortic valve by curling my left-hand’s index finger together with the hand’s thumb. “Once in position, all you have to do is advance this proximal lever, and, voilà, the valve springs open and is deployed!” I said emphatically as the valve sprung open into its full position between my tightened thumb and my index finger. It was like magic. As the prosthetic valve proceeded to open, it pushed the small space between my forefinger and thumb wider and wider until the valve was completely open. “Deployed” if you wish. The valve now was in place, and I easily released the guide wire.
“Two voilàs in one short presentation? Must be making Dr. Shaw proud with my française,” I joked to myself.
“Very impressive, Dr. Dawson! But I thought MATAL stood for your two first names—Matthew and Alexiev! I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Current TAVR systems are so big and difficult to deploy. This puts those systems to shame. You’ve sold me!” Mr. Morgan concluded with a smile.
“Well, let’s make it happen,” said Alex.
“Not so fast,” Morgan proclaimed, raising his right hand like a cop stopping traffic. “We have a little issue over the IP. You see, my patent attorney found two significant prior art patents that read on your invention, the Brooks patent and the Fairfield patent. Each references a method and system for placing aortic valves using a ‘launch-able’ platform that appears very similar to yours, at least according to Sid Fox, our IP expert.”
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Morgan, but we are well aware of the Brooks and Fairfield patents,” Alex abruptly protested. “Neither uses our rotating screw mechanism to deliver the valve, nor its access point. I feel confident that you will come to the same conclusion, once your Mr. Fox talks with our Mr. Lippert. I will email you his number and he will be happy to clarify any and all IP issues. Let’s just enjoy our meal.”
Alex knew how to change gears. At that precise moment the waitress brought out my Rooster Noodles, a mixture of “pork belly, crab, head-on shrimp, and teff ramen.” Alex devoured the Blackened Catfish, while Morgan feasted on Helga’s Meatballs. After our feast, we shared one order of Sweet Potato Doughnuts, and sipped our “Illy Blend dark roast coffee” and then all got up to leave.
“Good bye, Dr. Dawson and Dr. Shaw. You will be hearing from me this week.” Morgan extended his hand and gave both Alex and me a firm handshake.
“Good bye, Mr. Morgan,” I said as I wrapped up the MATAL system and slipped it back into my pocket.
“Great meeting you,” replied Alex with his usual confident smile.