When Pigs Fly

By Laura Edwards

flying pigA few minutes before 8 p.m., I shut down my laptop, vowed to ignore all emails for the rest of the night and took my dog, Daisy, on a walk before the last rays of sunshine gave in to darkness.

I didn’t do so well. At 8:09, I got an email from my mom with the subject line “fw: when pigs fly.” Well – wouldn’t YOU read it?

I’m not sure what you expected. But in our world, emails with subject lines like that originate from the desks of incredible scientists and include phrases like “translational research,” “pig model proposal” and “drug absorption.” You see, in our world, Porky the Pig isn’t just a pig. He’s a possible window to new discoveries – to answers for children like Taylor.

The most exciting thing about that email was that it contained a new idea. The craziest thing about that email was that I actually understood most of it – even scrolling through it on an iPhone with a 13-pound Westie tugging on my arm and a noisy lawnmower whining in my ears.

My elementary school required students to complete a science fair project every year. I hated the science fair. HATED it. One year, I chose the famous “Which brand of store-bought popcorn pops the most corn?” project, because I thought it would be easy.

Big mistake. I will never forget the Saturday afternoon Mom and I popped all those bags of popcorn. It was probably the most beautiful day of the year. We lived on a cul-de-sac at the time, and I could hear all of the neighbors’ kids’ voices as they played in the circle while I sat at the kitchen table, grudgingly counting every stupid popped and unpopped piece, one by one. I hated Mr. Orville Redenbacher’s guts and prayed for our microwave to break.

It’s not that I hated science. In fact, I found science incredibly fascinating. I loved learning about planets and galaxies and dreamed of discovering new worlds. I knew a ton of stuff about dinosaurs and built motorized cars and appliances with the erector set my grandfather brought back from F.A.O. Schwartz after one of his trips to New York City. Ninety percent of the stories I wrote in elementary and middle school (and I wrote a LOT) fell in the science fiction/fantasy category. Example A: kid’s mother’s boyfriend turns out to be an alien and kidnaps him. Example B: siblings find an old mirror in their grandmother’s attic and fall through the glass into a fantasy world full of prehistoric animals.

I loved – and still love – science that I can SEE – or at least science that I can visualize. I love science that has a story. I loved biology; I hated chemistry.

I hated my elementary school’s science fair, but one of my close friends won it every year. Now she’s getting her PhD in cell and developmental biology at Vanderbilt. And I’m still writing stories. Figures.

The more we change, the more we stay the same.

I always assumed I’d keep writing.

I never dreamed I’d be part of a worldwide effort to find a treatment for a rare, fatal childhood disease that kills its victims by preventing the body from breaking down fatty substances called lipopigments, thus causing the death of specific cells, called neurons, in the brain, retina and central nervous system.

I never dreamed that my little sister would be one of those victims.

Or that I’d be getting emails from talented scientists about translational research and drug absorption and pig model stuff. In fact, if you’d told me 10 years ago that at age 30, I’d be knee-deep in groundbreaking medical research, you know what I would have said?

“When pigs fly!”

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