Nobel laureate Richard Heck dies in Manila

Reuters

Posted at Oct 11 2015 01:19 AM | Updated as of Oct 11 2015 09:32 AM

U.S. scientist Richard Heck of the University of Delaware holds his book during a Reuters interview at his home in Quezon City, Metro Manila, in this October 7, 2010 file photo. The Nobel laureate died in Manila on Saturday after years of illnesses that left him almost penniless, relatives of his Filipina wife said on October 10, 2015. Photo by Cheryl Ravelo, Reuters

American chemist and Nobel laureate Richard Heck died in Manila after years of illnesses that left him almost penniless, relatives of his Filipina wife said on Saturday (October 10).

Heck, 84, along with Japanese Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki, won the Nobel prize in chemistry in 2010 for inventing new ways to bind carbon atoms that were used in research to fight cancer and produce thin computer screens.

READ: Chemistry Nobel winner says his discovery now beyond him

He was affiliated with the University of Delaware in the United States when he developed his work on palladium as a catalyst, called the Heck reaction, in the 1960s and early 1970s. The two Japanese scientists came through with their variants of the same process in the late 1970s.

He retired in the Philippines in 2006 along with his Filipina wife, Socorro Nardo-Heck. Socorro died two years after Heck won his Nobel prize, said Michael Nardo, Socorro's nephew, who had been looking after Heck since his wife's death. The couple was childless.

READ: Nobel Prize winner: For the love of a Filipina

Heck was often depressed after his wife died, Nardo told Reuters. He had been in and out of the hospital since 2013, when he suffered a serious bout of pneumonia.

Heck survived prostate cancer and had been taking medication for diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and slight dementia, Nardo said.

"He's a loving, understanding person. The smartest person," Nardo said of Heck.

He was relying on his monthly pension of $2,500 to get by, the nephew added.

Two personal nurses took turns taking care of him in his home in the past year.

One of the nurses, Jane Rose Pido, said Heck was rushed to a private hospital due to severe vomiting, but was refused admission due to unpaid bills.

"It was painful to see, that the man was fighting for his life but he was left to die, because he did not have money. How could it end up like that? We didn't know which hospital to take him to, so much time was lost. He could have been revived," Pido said.

Pido said they were forced to take him to a public hospital, where his vital signs deteriorated within hours, until he died.

She said the American always spoke of returning to the United States.

"We nearly fought, because he was insisting that he wanted to go back to the U.S. He would get his walker, walk outside the house and wait for a taxi, and he would say he was going to the airport to return to the U.S.," Pido said.

Relatives of Heck's wife said he had no family in the U.S.