Nobel winner Kao coping with fame and Alzheimer's

Updated: 2009-10-09 07:54

(HK Edition)

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HONG KONG: He said he was very happy to win a Nobel Prize and his wife has been really good. But when asked if he is the "father of fiber optics", he wasn't able to give a positive answer.

Such is the condition, as revealed in footage broadcast by Hong Kong Cable TV yesterday, of Charles Kao Kun, the former chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and recently declared 2009 Nobel Prize winner - an award bestowed for his pioneering work in fiber optics, which he will share with two other Americans (Kao, born in Shanghai, educated in Hong Kong and the US, holds dual American-British citizenship).

"Inside me, I have a lot to say, but it's very difficult to say," he said, without a trace of bitterness in his voice.

Beaming like child, he showed reporters how he helped wash vegetables in the kitchen. "I can do a lot," he boasted.

He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's five years ago, his wife Gwen Kao May-wan told China News Service (CNS) in their Silicon Valley home on Wednesday (local time).

"A friend noticed he's becoming slower when playing Mahjong and suggested a checkup ... The friend has a father who suffers from the disease," she said.

Alzheimer's, estimated to afflict 26-35 million worldwide, is characterized by a gradual loss of memory, speech, movement, and the ability to think clearly.

An outstanding scientist whose research had led to a breakthrough in fiber optics in determining how to transmit light over long distances via optical glass fibers as thin as a human hair, today's Kao can express himself only through short, simple sentences.

"The disease makes him a different person. I cried (over this) for a long time," Gwen said in the video footage.

But she has long learned to accept Kao as a new person. They play tennis, take strolls and attend weekly community center classes for physical exercise, handicrafts and music.

Kao has a good appetite, sleeps well, wears a smile on his face all day long and is always happy, she said.

They will definitely attend the award ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, though Kao is understandably unable to deliver the laureate's speech. "It's a once-in-a-life occasion," she said.

She told media that they will donate part of the prize to social organizations serving the elderly and to research into Alzeheimer's.

Kao will receive half the $1.4 million prize for 2009 Nobel Prize for Physics. Willard Boyle, a Canadian American, and George Smith of the United States will share the other half of the prize.

Separately, Hong Kong book publisher Joint Publishing said they will print another 2,000 copies of Kao's autobiography.

A total of 3,000 copies were printed in 2005 and half have been sold. The remaining 1,500 have been put on shelves since the prize was announced, Joint Publishing said.

China Daily

(HK Edition 10/09/2009 page1)