The Personal Side of a Tech Transfer Patient Video

AUTM (Association of University Technology Managers), our professional association, started a program called “Put a Face On It” three years ago with the goal of making a real-world connection between our members’ work and its ability to transform people’s lives. We were excited for the opportunity. Our first project was about a cardiac imaging toolbox. We had a great story – the inventor and patient were the very same person; he had his own invention used on himself before his by-pass surgery (see the video here). The story has been a rousing success.

At Emory we are blessed to have a number of worthwhile innovations that have made a difference in people’s lives. The challenge for video number two was selecting one of those stories and finding a willing patient to participate. It’s not as easy as it might sound at first. If the technology is a diagnostic – How do you find a patient when the technology was just a part of the process to get treatment? If the technology is a surgical device – Does the patient know it was used and do they understand the importance of its role? One of the ideas floated after much discussion was to talk with one of our licensees, Neuronetics, also an Emory start-up. The technology, invented by Emory physician Charles (Chip) Epstein, MD, utilized TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) to treat depression. It was a great story. But how do we find a patient who was treated with the therapy and willing to talk publically about such a personal experience and disorder that still carries a public stigma?

Martha Rhodes Visit Group Photograph

Todd Sherer, Martha Rhodes, Linda Kesselring

Fast forward a year and a half later and a senior executive from Neuronetics introduces our director to a patient who might be interested in speaking with us about her experience. Not only is she interested, she’s enthusiastic, well-spoke, an advocate for TMS treatment, and has written a book about her experience. Have we really managed to pull this off? A few more phone calls and a number of emails exchanged and it’s decided – we’ll bring her to Atlanta for a filming session and she’ll even present her story to a group at the University.

Who is this extraordinary patient? Martha Rhodes, wife, mother, grandmother, former high powered advertising executive in New York City, and depression patient who became treatment resistant, attempted suicide, and eventually found TMS to treat and manage her depression. Martha’s book about her experience is titled “3,000 Pulses Later” and she has an electronic presence with a website and Twitter account.

I had the privilege of shepherding Martha throughout her day with us. I read her book the weekend before her arrival to prepare. It’s a terrific read. In the book, she starts to come to life and I almost felt like I knew her. As I watched her throughout the day answering lots of questions, talking about such personal experiences, and being concerned that she’s doing a good job for us, I was thoroughly impressed by her. We couldn’t have gotten any luckier; Martha is truly inspiring and perfect for our video!

One of the most touching moments of the day, for me, was when Martha was able to meet Chip and to see her throw her arms around him in a big hug, get emotional, and thank him for his work. Conversations with her throughout the day were lively, interesting, and entertaining; she’s a fascinating person. As I went home that evening after a farewell dinner with Martha, I wondered what it would have been like to see her in her heyday as partner in a major advertising firm in New York City commanding a team and an audience – I bet she was impressive.

As I start my work the next day still thinking about her visit, I wonder how we are going to live up to what I had just witnessed in our little two minute video. How do we convey that message? Will we do her story justice? I remind myself that even though the task ahead is daunting, we should have faith in the power of her story.

When my time in tech transfer is done I’m certain Martha’s visit and her story will be one of the highlights.

– Linda Kesselring, Operations Director

There are six videos on the Emory’s TMS technology listed below:

This piece is one in a series of four blogs related to Emory’s TMS technology. They look at the development and management of the technology, its impact, and this project from several points of view.