How One Doctor Plus Fifty Other People Created A Huge Innovation For One Woman
I’d like to ask every person reading this to quickly look at their right hand and make a fist with it. While doing that, I would ask them to look at their left hand and grab something with it such as a pencil or glass of water. I’d like everyone to do those two things and imagine life without one or both of those hands. I’d also want everyone to picture if they lost a hand and at the same time felt pain from it coming down. A pain where extinct in the brain is saying it’s still there, but reality is saying it isn’t. The pain of the body saying that and the pain of the mind having to live with that. And imagine hearing that all the best options to have this pain filled in won’t be covered by insurance and that medical research in this space is limited. That’s what Doctor Ajay Seth heard and he came and fixed it.
Getting to interview the Ohio doctor who is now the author of the book Rewired was a fun, but also interesting thing. When I hopped on a call with him, I just opened making the joke that my dad like him was an orthopedic surgeon. Even funnier was when I mentioned most of his work in medicine are the hands. His line was “Small world”. We had a good little laugh there and continued talking. Going into the call with Dr. Seth, I can’t say I didn’t know a lot of surgeons. However, with the dozens I’ve personally gotten to know, none of them really ever do innovation in the technology of medicine. I asked for why he did and he came back to me with a response I didn’t expect. Promise.
Dr. Seth for the most part is your normal Ohio Doctor. Completed med school at Ohio State and did undergrad in Wisconsin. However, where his work happened was a woman getting bit by a raccoon in her arm which lead to some abnormal issues. The raccoon was rabid and that lead to an infection in the arm hitting pretty quickly. In this, the Doctor talked to the woman and made her a promise. The promise was he’d be able to save her arm and avoid amputation. Sadly, not all promises can be kept. The arm was pretty badly off from the beginning and amputation was the needed outcome.
With that tragedy it was also sort of the perfect storm against her. The infection was getting worse and Dr. Seth made a second promise. That promise was that he was going to save her life. He kept that promise. She lived the surgery. She lived the infection. She was going to be okay and have many years going forward. However, Dr. Seth saw the condition she was in with losing a limb and he decided to make her a third promise. He was going to help make life better for her with this condition.
The first thing they did to help was find the best innovations for prosthetic limbs and they go no place else besides John Hopkins. There his patient was able to test some of the innovations they’ve made. And well, it’s the quality people would guess comes from John Hopkins. The arms allow people through nerves to control the arm itself. The arms also allow actually some feeling from touch. The prosthetics are so good that it’s easier to just call them an arm. However, sadly while quality goes up, cost usually join that. And when cost go up, insurance companies interests go down.
The word that sort of struck me hard in the interview was when Dr. Seth said “luxury”. As in the line “Sadly, insurance companies only see basic prosthetics as a need. Anything else is really just a luxury” being brought up. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are currently suffering from missing one or more limbs. Be it veterans, diabetes, infection, birth issues, heart issues or whatever, it’s a problem that impacts millions globally. However, due to the procedures needed to properly install, different sizes of limbs and more, it’s just too expensive to call a necessary expense.
Dr. Seth however just didn’t really want to sit there and see a promise not kept. He worked years to try and fix this. He worked with his patient giving more time and patience to the field of prosthetics over what really any group out of a research lab did. He didn’t want a person he committed to helping go without the best care possible. He wasn’t a research doctor, but having a Lorenzo’s Oil moment was set on changing the game. And the result? He did. After a lot of work, a procedure needing to happen again and trying to fully understand the gap with technology and the nervous system, he did it. Technology which many have labeled the most advanced prosthetic arm ever didn’t come from a big company or a lab in MIT, but came from just one doctor trying to keep an oath to a patient.
Doing it though and hearing the story, I was sort of hit with thoughts. The first thought was actually being a bit touched by the story. I’ve interviewed before Speaker Newt Gingrich, Senator Joe Lieberman, animation legend Butch Hartman, music icon Morrissey and many others. I don’t really think a story itself ever actually gripped me as much as this one. It felt like his book Rewired was created as the book was needed to tell a story versus other books where I sometimes they just exist for the desire to have a book. Call Dr. Seth a great orator or call him a great communicator talking, this story killed it.
After that, I had two final questions.
The first being where is the sequel. When is “Rewired Part Two: How Everyone Got Innovation” going to become a thing I can talk to him about? When are we hitting a point where this technology is cheaper and more accessible so people with just a regular doctor can get it. For that, it’s going to be not in the hands of insurance, but venture capital. Dr. Seth is trying to fundraise several million to get the funds needed to continue research into how more than one patient can get access to this type of work. So far, medicine meets technology investments are always a little hard. However with some viral videos which he’s done showing the tech and now a book, there’s a hope the attention needed can come.
The second question is what I ask everyone when doing an interview. What is it to succeed to them?
At first, I just guessed Dr. Seth was going to say the word I assumed it’d be. Promise. With his story, he made three promises. The first one was just something very unlikely anyone could have kept. The second promise was something possible to keep and he did. However, those two promises were doing his job as a doctor. The third promise was something he had no obligation as a doctor to do, but he felt the need to make it happen. He did and the result was innovation. However, that wasn’t the word he said.
One thing that the doctor pointed out is something key to any project be it simple or in this case complex and that is it’s never just one person. With the doctor, he said through his initial surgery to remove the arm clean to other responses on that to prevent death to the research into artificial limbs to the procedure getting it installed, it wasn’t a one person job, but a fifty person job. It’s something every team and every innovator should know.
Closing this up, I want to share a link to where people can buy the book on Amazon. It was a solid read and going into the holidays I’d recommend people pick it up. A lot of people would call an innovation like this a miracle. Dr. Seth probably would also. However, I’ll call it a event with years of hard work and dozens of people in the making. Thank you Doctor Seth for speaking and I look forward to the sequel.