When I left Australia to help lead a U.S.-based medical device company, I left behind a clinical practice that I loved and hospital and research teams I enjoyed leading for many years. One of my most difficult goodbyes was to a young man named Matthew. Of all the people I’ve cared for, his story may have taught me the most.
I met Matthew when he was nine years old and suffering from severe blood pressure problems, seizures and other symptoms that frequently sent him to the emergency room.
But first, I met his mom Alex. She came to my office after Matthew had suffered a stroke and was developing progressive kidney failure. He had endured more than 30 hospital admissions in the previous two years to stabilize his uncontrolled blood pressure. She physically carried with her Matthew’s daily medications in two large plastic crates. Alex knew that I was pursuing first-in-human trials of a novel renal denervation procedure she thought could help Matthew — and she was driven and committed to help her son. I was deeply moved and, although I was an interventional cardiologist and not a pediatrician, she inspired me to try to help him as well.
If not for his young age and multiple anatomic issues Matthew may have fit the profile for our trial. Alex encouraged and persuaded us to start what became a 15-month journey to undertake the first-ever renal denervation procedure in a child. There were multiple logistical and regulatory hurdles on top of design and manufacturing challenges, but ultimately the team developed and implanted a small, customized device to target the nerves surrounding Matthew’s tiny renal arteries. In the face of extraordinary odds against him, the procedure worked. Eight years and countless after-school conversations later, Matthew is an active teenager — keeping up with school, playing cricket and basketball and preparing for college.
Matthew isn’t the only one whose life looks different all these years later. My day-to-day has changed dramatically as well. As an executive focusing on global business and medical affairs at Boston Scientific, my impact on and connection to individual patients like Matthew today is very different from my years in the cath lab. But I’ve drawn profoundly important lessons from my time in clinical practice based on these interactions, and many of my colleagues recount similar experiences. Matthew and his dedicated mom changed my view of care forever. Our work today matters because we have seen firsthand the impact of our devices and therapies on people like Matthew.
This taught me that the true promise of medical devices extends beyond helping clinicians deliver life-saving care in critical moments, like an implantable cardiac defibrillator restarting a patient’s heart. Our greatest potential lies in our ability to collaborate and take smart risks for the benefit of patients we serve together – for life. With the growing burden of chronic conditions and the aging of the population, the unmet need is significant. There are many exciting opportunities for improved diagnostics and preventative strategies, decision support and analytics and improved engagement with patients and caregivers. This is the future of patient-centric healthcare.
Remembering the example of Matthew and his mother, I know that finding — or creating — the right treatment is rarely a straight line. When we focus on truly understanding the unmet need, and refuse to let convention dictate our path forward, our solutions can be life-changing. We must always remember at the other end of every new device or therapy is a person just like Matthew, and by their side are caregivers like his mom and dad.
As Global Chief Medical Officer, I now have the opportunity to go where the need is greatest in another way. Instead of treating one individual at a time, I am fortunate to oversee work that impacts millions. But regardless of scale or where we sit in this business, we all share the same drive: to create hope where it once seemed impossible. It was my privilege to do that for Matthew and his mother all those years ago, and it is my greatest honor to continue that work now.