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He Was a Coding Wonder. Then His Brain Changed

Inside Cloudflare co-founder Lee Holloway's diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 15, 2020 2:37 PM CDT
Updated Apr 19, 2020 10:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – As Sandra Upson describes him, Lee Holloway was a wonder. The engineer took "a literal sketch on a napkin" and programmed it into Cloudflare, an internet security company that launched in 2009 and "now handles more than 10% of all internet requests and blocks billions of cyberthreats per day." But her lengthy piece for Wired isn't as much about how Holloway shaped Cloudflare, but about his strange and long-unexplained descent that came next. The changes to Holloway's personality were gradual: He became pricklier. His interest in what he was working on waned; he'd play games on his phone during meetings. And he slept. A lot, including during three days of a family trip to Paris.

He did have two medical issues: migraines and a lifelong issue with his aortic valve that necessitated a January 2015 surgery. He took months off work; the sleepiness increased; his personality got rougher. By the summer of 2016, his two co-founders decided he had to go, and he agreed. But nothing improved. He slept all the time, demonstrated no interest in his newborn son, and watched Home Alone over and over. It wasn't until March 2017 that the MRI that no one suspected he needed reveal something amiss: atrophy in Holloway's brain. Holloway was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, a rare disease that doesn't initially impact memory but does alter behavior. There is no treatment, and what was to come was grim: a loss of speech, movement, and eventual death—though Holloway is still alive, just hugely changed. (Read the full story for more on his life right now.)

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