The generosity of one man gives another a second chance at life, and shows him that he truly is more than nothing.
In the early 1980’s Mike Williams was on top of the world. After a cracked tooth, and a visit to the dentist gave him the idea to invent the first intraoral camera, which then led to other advances and inventions in medical technology, including the wire catheter cameras used by doctors around the world, Williams was a highly successful inventor and entrepreneur. His inventions made him millions of dollars in fact. But as he explaind to NPR’s Robert Smith, that success did not last. Williams said, “The real estate market destroyed a lot of my financial capabilities, and my home went into foreclosure [in 2009]. I had a group that defrauded me in Florida, took about $2.5 million from me in a scam, and it just kept going and kept going and I couldn’t stop it.”
In the midst of loosing everything he had worked so hard for, his wife asked for a divorce. For Williams, that was the last straw. He says, “I packed my car, told my kids to come and get what they wanted and I basically hit the streets.” He lived out of his car for a period of time, but eventually lost that as well when he wasn’t able to make the payments. After losing his car, Williams took shelter in on of the only “safe” places he could find, a dumpster. It was during this time that Williams said he realized that he was “really nothing.” He said, “That was very hard for me to grasp; the fact that no one wanted me around. I was something nobody wanted to see or be involved in, and that crushed me.”
After a severe beating in a Sacramento park last August that left him with damage to his prostate, Williams met the man that would change his life for the better. Dr. Jong Chen was the surgeon who was going to fix the damaged prostate, and before Williams went into the operating room they started talking. It didn’t matter to Chen that Williams was a homeless man without insurance, he says, “To me, a patient is a patient, no matter what kind of status [they] have. They need the help, [and] we can give him the help.” Chen was curious to know how Williams had become homeless, and what it was that he did before the unfortunate turn of events that led to him being on Chen’s operating table. Williams started telling Chen his story, “And I said, ‘As a matter of fact, I’m the inventor of that little wire catheter you’re using.’ ”
Dr. Chen was quite impressed by Williams, and he “thought it was a waste” that someone who was obviously as talented an inventor as Williams was living on the street. So, a while after Williams’ surgery, Chen contacted him at a local Salvation Army shelter and invited him to breakfast. Chen had come up with a plan to help Williams get back on his feet again, he said, “I want you to bring your patents. I want you to bring whatever you’re working on.” And Williams did.
Over breakfast Williams told Chen about an idea he had come up with while sheltering in the dumpster. He wanted to invent “a secure, safe place for the homeless and people that are displaced in society.” Williams had even gone so far as to draw up plans for his most recent vision, a completely self-contained “survival pod” which was a 6-foot by 6-foot structure that contained a single bed and a chemical toilet. Dr. Chen thought it was a wonderful idea, and the two men formed a company to start work on a prototype. They believe the “survival pod” could be used for situations other than providing shelter for the homeless as well. They envision the pods being used by FEMA for emergency housing, and even the possibility that airports could rent them to travelers with long layovers.
Even more than supporting Williams vision, Dr. Chen has also helped him get out of the shelter and into an apartment of his own. He got him new clothes, and always treats him to meals when the two meet. Williams told NPR that he is truly “humbled by the second chance” Chen has given him. He says, “[Dr. Chen] is truly an amazing man. I’m just telling you, [he] is the example for America … it’s people like Chen who are truly helping people.”