At Medical Device Daily we’re usually fortunate enough to talk to a lot of the movers and shakers in the medical device industry. Company CEOs, doctors, researchers, and other industry leaders who are truly on the front lines of medical innovation are regular sources for our daily stories.
But every once in a while we get to talk to someone who has had such a massive impact on this industry that it leaves us a little bit star struck to have the opportunity to speak with them one on one.
Last year my star-struck moment came when I received a phone call from industry legend and the father of drug delivery, Robert Langer, PhD.
Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge) is a renowned expert in developing polymers for biomedical applications. He called me last July about a story I was working on about a new type of gel material that could be implanted into scarred vocal chords to restore their normal function – a project Langer himself was involved with.
This week my star-struck moment came when I had the opportunity to interview Thomas Fogarty, MD, over the phone about his recent induction into the National Academy of Inventors as the organization’s first NAI Fellow in the newly established Fellow membership category.
Fogarty, founder of the Fogarty Institute for Innovation (Mountain View, California), is the man who invented the balloon catheter and the widely used Aneurx Stent Graft that replaces open surgery for aortic aneurysm.
Going into the interview, I already knew about most of Fogarty’s professional accomplishments, which can be found in his bio on the Fogarty Institute’s web site. But within just a few minutes of our phone conversation, I felt like I had a pretty firm grasp on Tom Fogarty as a person - some things that not many people would know unless they’ve met or worked with him personally.
For starters, the man has a great sense of humor. Before my questions even began, he had made a quip about getting shot during the interview – to which I promptly assured him it would be a non-lethal interview. And at the end of our conversation, when I thanked him for his time and told him what an honor it had been to speak with him, he showed his humor again by saying, “you might want to wait until you’ve met me in person before you say that.”
I also quickly learned during the conversation that Fogarty is not only a brilliant inventor, but an incredibly humble and caring individual. While he clearly appreciated the NAI’s recognition of his professional accomplishments, he quickly told me that the patients are the real heroes, especially the patients who agree to have new procedures performed on them. “Without them, we wouldn’t have new technology,” he pointed out.
Another quality I appreciated about Fogarty is his willingness to shoot straight from the hip. He spoke candidly about the direction that innovation in the U.S. is headed. “The fact is, it’s reached a point in the field of medicine that we in the U.S. are no longer the leaders in medical technology,” he said. He added that no wonder medical tourism has become so popular among U.S. patients, because other countries have better drugs, better devices, and better trained physicians, because they have been dealing with the new technology for up to ten years earlier than U.S. physicians had access to it.
It is clear to me that Fogarty does not do what he does for recognition but to make a real difference in other people's lives. And while he may be too humble to admit it, it really was an honor to speak with him.