Sydney Chan, who exposed the existence of coronavirus in order to shorten the wait for data on the deadly virus, was never going to be rewarded for the work he did.
Chan was a former Sydney hospital orderly who became obsessed with the deadly coronavirus that had the potential to spread globally from a sick camels.
Chan disclosed his past as a cleaner to the coroner in order to disclose the existence of the virus as part of a scientific study about the virus. But his disclosures were too deep to shrug off in China, and a case against him was eventually dropped.
Chan has died at age 34 after a suspected heart attack. He is the fifth Westerner to die of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) since the virus emerged in 2012.
His friends in Australia and within the scientific community said his legal battle in China set back efforts to deal with MERS.
"This is a bloody mess, but we did fight for the right to free speech and the right to be honest," said veterinarian and former entomologist Peter Kuzma, who said Chan was one of his greatest inspirations.
"He was a keeper of secrets; he didn't think it was a problem to tell the truth, and he wasn't going to pay a price for that," Kuzma said.
Although Chan did not know it, he was at the core of a historic stand by scientists in Hong Kong, as well as Beijing, calling for openness and more information on the MERS virus. Chan's disclosure of the virus' existence was pivotal in dramatically reducing the time required to track it and make faster progress on the likely origin of the virus in camels.
Like scientists elsewhere, Chan was very concerned about the lack of detail on how the virus was spread among people. He also wanted to address the epidemic's spread within camels.
Samuel Liu, who was working with Chan at St. Vincent's Hospital, described Chan to the coroner as "a tireless, exceptional individual" who was a driving force in organizing the establishment of the academy for science and society that has been set up by the Chinese government.
"He was proud of his China achievements, and he was always writing -- never from personal insurance claims, but from pride and intent," Liu told the New York Times.
Chan's colleagues at St. Vincent's were worried that he might seek revenge against them. They brought documents about his potential plans to prosecute them to hospital and police.
"The attitude was 'he always has tricks up his sleeve,'" said Justin Ewers, a colleague at St. Vincent's and a friend of Chan.
But Chan did not have any plans to sue.
"There were no plans, but there's always a chance," Ewers said.
Although he did not see himself as an environmental activist, Chan saw himself as a man who spoke the truth to protect humans from harm. "He was a human first, a scientist second," said Dr. Robert Garry, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of California at San Francisco.
Garry said Chan was driven by the need to ensure research was being conducted properly and that people had access to information.
"If I were a manager or someone who was going to lead research, I'd want to know what people were doing, where they were going to do it, what their analyses and conclusions were, what their data was, and what the plan was for the next step," Garry said.
"He's given us a framework for how science and medicine ought to be done," he said.
Chan's demise has cast a pall over the study of MERS in China, where the lack of transparency and communication regarding MERS has been a source of frustration for many. While the World Health Organization says that China has made great progress in establishing National Coordinating Committees to coordinate MERS research, the country continues to have significant problems with hiding information on the virus.
Chan joined the fight in China in 2014, when 12 foreign and Chinese scientists were kicked out of the Chinese research center at which they were conducting the research. Chan was contacted by The Times at the time of his expulsion.
At the time, Hong Kong disease analyst Chan Yip-mo urged Chinese academics to be truthful with the public and keep up-to-date information on MERS.
"Every night I ask myself who is giving the misinformation and why," he said. "What I can say is that the environment in China is difficult to effectively communicate and to prevent the disease from spreading.
"It will be harder for us to understand what might be going on in China now that he is no longer here."