Sean Parker has a deadly allergy to nuts.If Sean eats nuts accidentally and doesn’t get injected with steroids or epinephrine shortly thereafter, he’ll stop breathing and die.
The former president of Facebook and the founder of venture firm Founder’s Fund, Sean got to Davos for this year’s World Economic Forum on Tuesday.
He came in from Munich, where he had spoken at the DLD conference with novelist Paulo Coelho and hosted a private “nightcap” at a bar called Shumann’s. Sean would be kicking off the Davos conference the next morning at 9:00am, in a session called “Connectedness: An Update,” with journalist Jeff Jarvis and venture-capitalist Jim Breyer, among others.
The night Sean arrived, sources say, he was having dinner at a Davos restaurant with his girlfriend, Alexandra Lenas. Alexandra was having lamb, and Sean wanted to try it, but he first had to make sure it hadn’t been made with nuts.
Sean asked the waiter whether the lamb contained nuts.
The waiter said, “no nuts.”
So Sean tried Alexandra’s lamb.
He found it unusually delicious — because he wasn’t used to the taste of nuts.
A few minutes later, hammered by the onset of the allergy, Sean was in the restaurant’s bathroom, puking his guts out.
He gulped down a Benadryl, which bought time, and then he and Alexandra hobbled out to his car. Sean’s driver stomped on the gas, and they rushed through the streets of Davos toward the hospital.
They weren’t quite there, however, when traffic came to a sudden stop. It was snowing, and there had been a car accident up ahead, and for a few frightening minutes, they made little progress toward the hospital.
Photo: John Kao
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Sean, up ahead, in the middle of the accident, was another Davos attendee — an innovation consultant named John Kao.John was also kicking off the conference the next morning, with a three-hour seminar on — get this — disaster management. John had a medical degree (unused), and had once been tutored in finance at Harvard Business School by a classmate by the name of Jamie Dimon (yes, that one).
John had been riding in a taxi that evening when another car had lost control in the snow and smashed into his cab. John’s head had whipped forward, smashing his forehead. His eye socket had been fractured, and his eye had swollen shut. He was bleeding profusely.
The ambulance finally arrived and took John to the hospital. The police sorted out the mess, eventually clearing a path for Sean Parker’s car. He and Alexandra slipped through and rushed the rest of the way to the hospital.
The Davos Emergency room is apparently on on-demand affair: If you get hurt or sick, you call the doctors, and they head to the hospital and meet you there. On Tuesday night, the doctors were already there, because they had been called to to take care of John after the accident.
Sean got his steroids in time. It would be hours before he completely recovered. But for him, the emergency was over.
John, meanwhile, was lying on a gurney at the Davos hospital next to Sean. There was a curtain between them, so they couldn’t see each other.
Sean and John had never met each other, and, at the hospital, they never saw each other. They both heard English, however, and recognised each other as Americans. They began talking through the curtain. Drawing on his MD, John discussed Sean’s condition with him.
A few hours later, Sean was cleared to leave the hospital. He left John his card and drove to his chalet with Alexandra.
The crisis had passed, but Sean had been shot full of steroids, so he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep. It was already well past midnight, and there were only a few hours before he would have to leave for the conference centre.
Meanwhile, at the hospital, John Kao was eventually cleared to depart.
The trouble was, he had nowhere to sleep.
The World Economic Forum had booked him in a hotel in another town, and there would be no way to get there and get back for his own 9AM opening session.
John figured his best bet was to sleep on a gurney. But then he remembered Sean Parker.
John sent Sean an email describing his predicament.
To John’s surprise, moments later, an email came back.
Sean was still up, the email said, and John should come right over. The chalet would be hard to find, but it would be the one with the lights on after a slide, and Sean would leave a stuffed toy propping open the door.
The chalet took a while to find, and it was 5:30am before John finally knocked on the door. When Sean opened it, he and John met each other face to face for the first time.
Sean was still pacing and stressed. John had bandage covering his left eye that was the size of a baseball. They ate some chips together. John gave Sean a paper he had written on innovation. Sean read it and, to his surprise, found that he mostly agreed with John.
Eventually, in the hour or two they had left, Sean and John tried to get some sleep. Then they got up, pulled themselves together, and headed for their 9AM presentations at the Congress Centre.
“The show must go on,” John Kao later said, with a smile.