Josh James: The wildest, craziest, most death-defying (Mormon) mogul on the planet!

  @FortuneMagazine February 11, 2014: 11:36 AM ET
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Don't fear the rooster: James with one of his motivational tools at Domo headquarters in American Fork, Utah.

(Fortune)

Josh James didn't have time to be sick. Only a few years after selling his software company Omniture to Adobe for $1.8 billion, he was about to close a $125 million round of financing for Domo, his young enterprise-software company. This wasn't the moment to take a day off.

So James, 40, tried to ignore the sore throat that had been building since a brief trip to Thailand in November. Still, it was worrisome. The soreness wasn't anything he had ever experienced. James was in constant pain, as if a golf ball had lodged itself in his trachea. It was becoming hard to breathe. He had a fever, too, with his temperature occasionally spiking to a dangerous 104 degrees. Antibiotics lowered the temperature briefly, but then it returned with even more savagery.

James kept working, traveling from his Utah home to San Francisco and New York in early December for meetings. But his breathing was so shallow that he had to go to emergency rooms in Utah and San Francisco. The doctors helped ease his symptoms but couldn't figure out the cause; his Utah physician sent his throat-culture samples for tests.

At the end of a cross-country flight to New York City on Dec. 11, James finally got a diagnosis. He was seated in first class next to Domo's president, Chris Harrington. The two spent the flight strategizing, leaning close over the armrest to keep others from overhearing. James was so exhausted he could barely concentrate. Just before the Wi-Fi signal shut off for landing, an email arrived from his doctor: James's body was harboring Neisseria meningitidis -- a bacterium that causes meningitis. The disease is highly contagious and can be fatal.

The doctor ordered him not to come within six feet of other people and to report to an emergency room immediately. James abruptly slid away from Harrington, forwarded the doctor's email, and texted, "Don't talk to me. Read your email. I'm sorry." Once the plane landed, James told his driver to take him to Lenox Hill Hospital on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

There the receiving doctor delivered a stark message: James had 48 hours to live. Medics rushed him to an isolation room, where they coated the inside of the windows with plastic. A nurse wearing a protective full-body suit ran an IV into an artery to push a massive dose of antibiotics directly into his heart. Then she quickly departed.

For hours, James was left alone, his body racked with chills. Every few minutes the IV bag would slip from its holder and its monitor would begin bleating, but nobody came to adjust it. After three or four hours, he says, he was finally able to get the attention of the nurses, followed by that of the hospital's head of infectious diseases.

Despite his isolation, his fever, and the doctor's statement that his death was imminent, James felt strangely calm. He didn't believe he was about to die, though he did reflect on his life. As James puts it, "I remember thinking, I know I've been honest in all my relationships and tried my hardest to be a great friend and brother and dad and husband. I wish I'd been a little nicer to my wife."

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