A 12-year-long hunt for answers began just after Fremont, Neb., set off its Fourth of July fireworks in 2002.
day, Fremont's Dr. Tom McKnight took a deep breath and walked into the
office of Dr. Tahir Ali Javed, Fremont's sole oncologist. He needed to
confront Javed about a problem.
Five Fremont-area residents,
including McKnight's own wife, Evelyn, had recently tested positive for
hepatitis C — a dangerous and sometimes deadly virus.
positive tests befuddled McKnight. But members of the group did have one
terrifying thing in common: All were cancer patients being treated
inside Javed's clinic.
This uncomfortable conversation between
doctors felt doubly awkward because Javed, his wife and the McKnights
had grown close during Evelyn McKnight's two bouts with breast cancer.
They had dined together on Saturday nights. They had shared hopes and
fears. When Evelyn McKnight got sick, Javed's wife took casseroles to
her house so she wouldn't have to cook.
Now Tom McKnight, as
gently as he could, broached the idea that Javed's office might be the
cause of a hepatitis C outbreak and a potential public health nightmare.
Javed listened and then promised that, together, they would get to the bottom of this medical mystery.
days later, the well-liked oncologist boarded a plane in Omaha bound
for his native Pakistan. He had told Fremont hospital administrators and
his office staff that his mother had fallen gravely ill and he needed
to care for her.
I will be back in two weeks, Javed promised.
He never returned.