A man submits his own DNA to catch two deadly diseases. By doing it, he should learn from the scientists’ mistakes.

On Sept. 28, a letter arrived in the mailbox of Craig Dutcher, the city manager of the City of Toronto, announcing that his wife, Tasha, was sick with leukemia. The news was harsh, but it was true: She had been diagnosed, and was in an intensive care unit.

Craig, it would seem, was not prepared to be left alone. Tasha is his third wife, after two previous divorces, and with each new relationship he became dependent on one another for care. Friends stopped calling him at home. He went from a 69 percent unemployment rate — and a $127,200 yearly salary — to the job market’s scarcest commodity: the overqualified. He decided, after years of struggling to live on his own, to try to squeeze one more so that he could qualify for parental leave under Ontario’s new paid parental leave program. Once Tasha was diagnosed, they knew they had to move quickly. They and their 10-year-old daughter, Isabelle, rushed from their home in Detroit to Toronto. They scraped together $40,000 for the down payment and a van to carry their belongings, mostly clothes and household goods.

Craig, 58, has long been a restless city manager. Raised in the bowels of Michigan’s auto plants, he’s faced down political factions, threatened strike drives and had to come up with creative, sometimes unpopular, ways to save dollars. But when he heard that Toronto faced a crippling outbreak of mumps — one for which it had no vaccine, no screening and no known natural outbreaks — and had no incentive to hunt down mumps-positive people and contact them, Craig decided something needed to be done.

He approached the Public Health Agency of Canada, which sent a team to screen 100 passengers from Detroit who had spent a few days in Toronto. Seventy were vaccinated. Craig’s luck continued. The DNA of the measles virus showed up on a woman with mumps and West Nile fever. Another human mumps virus showed up on a young man who’d been given an experimental drug that might help patients with the mumps.

After months of testing and poring over medical literature, Craig learned his team had matched the virus to the bacteria that causes dengue fever. The goal? To spot infected people as soon as possible and stop it from spreading. It was a grand idea, but doctors in Toronto have a hard time getting volunteers to voluntarily provide their DNA, even when it is diagnosed in their bodies. To make matters worse, such arrests are rare: just four have happened in more than half a century. Health officials at Toronto Public Health discovered that Craig had been testing hundreds of Canadians. “His success in helping get those initial samples was really the spark for our plan,” says Cecilia Dean, senior manager of public health at Toronto Public Health. “Everything builds off that success.”

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