March 6th, 2008

A “patient” reminder

By Bill
The only thing longer than her list of para-cycling medals and championships is the list of surgeries and treatments that preceded her total knee replacement and recovery. Jane Armstrong spoke at DePuy Inc.’s booth at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) medical conference yesterday in San Francisco and shared her story with dozens of onlookers.

She told of how her crippling knee problems affected her life and her family’s lives, and how debilitating her disease had become before her life-altering knee replacement helped her begin life again. Her triumphant recovery has led her hopefully to a spot on Australia’s Paralympics team in Beijing this year. For me, Jane’s story put a human face on the myriad devices and instruments that surrounded her in the DePuy booth.

It was an important humanizing element for my first experience at a medical device conference. The DePuy companies, a collection Johnson & Johnson orthopaedic and neurological businesses, are focused on surgical instruments for treatments such as joint reconstructions, hip and knee replacements, spinal deformities, traumatic joint injuries, etc. AAOS is their chance to show their wares on the industry’s biggest stage to doctors, patients, media and investors.

For the most part, trade shows are the same no matter what industry conducts them. Big booths and displays. Thousands of badged people milling about in a beehive of activity. Sales leads being collected and processed. Countless videos and hardware on display. Miles of thick carpet, bright lights and competing brands trying to outshine one another.

Walking the show floor was a bit like being at a surgical circus wondering which ring to watch next. I went from viewing graphic video of a knee replacement surgery one minute (the instruments and drilling looked more like a NASCAR pit than a surgical suite) to seeing people trying on braces and orthotic walking shoes. The strangest sight was the model in a white body suit “displaying” the latest treatment tables. I thought it was a mannequin laying on the table until she moved her head.

Amidst all this buzz, it may have been easy to lose sight of the patient, but there was Jane standing in the DePuy booth, her surgically repaired knee barely noticed behind the desk. Her smile and story a quick reminder of what it all meant. I’ll be back today to hear another patient story … and maybe catch a glimpse of some more videos and models.

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