We are constantly surrounded by technological innovations, so much so that we hardly pay attention to how significantly these new releases tend to simplify and streamline our lives. Technological tools get faster, smaller and more powerful – in fact, a single piece of medical wire measuring a fraction of a millimetre can change someone’s life.
We chatted to four incredible people about their journeys and the advanced medical innovations that transformed their lives, giving them the chance to do what they never expected they’d be able to: competing as a world-class athlete after losing a limb, hearing the laughter of a loved one after going deaf, controlling the previously impossible-to-stop tremors resulting from Parkinson’s disease.
“You learn a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of mentally and physically” – ‘Monster’ Mike Schultz on his recovery following an accident
Minnesota-based Mike Schultz was living the dream as a professional snocross racer at the top of his game when an accident in 2008 saw him thrown from his machine, his left leg hyperextended 180 degrees in the wrong direction. The accident severed one of the main arteries, and over the course of the next three days, Schultz learned doctors would have to amputate.
“Hearing that from the doctors was a hard one to accept. My family and I knew that after all the discussion, that was the right choice. OK, we’re going to accept it and we’re going to move on. I thought my competition and racing days were over,” says Schultz.
His love of sport and mental focus helped him recover swiftly and in a positive mindframe: six weeks after the operation, he knew he’d compete again – he just needed the right prosthetic to do it.
With Schultz’s interest in mechanics and tinkering – and his background in extreme sports – he knew that he required a leg with suspension components that functioned as a shock absorber on a snowmobile or dirt bike, so his leg could absorb the impacts when riding.
The Moto Knee was born – as was Schultz’s company, BioDapt, which designs and manufactures lower limb prosthetics for athletes, and has been in business for a decade. He also created the Versa Foot, which works in conjunction with the knee system. Since 2012, he’s been using machining tools from Scandinavian mechanical engineering firm, Sandvik, which he describes as “incredible.”
“I believe in having the right tools for the job. I look at my prosthetic equipment as tools that allow me to do what I want to accomplish,” he says.
Whenever Schultz sees a new challenge or needs a new prosthetic for a sport, he hits the drawing board, eventually creating a product he shares with customers around the world – and his top competitors. He’s already launched next-gen iterations of the Moto Knee and Versa Foot, and a downhill ski foot is coming soon.
Schultz’s sports career has gone from strength to strength: he started skiing with the Moto Knee, a sport he enjoys in his downtime with his wife, and has picked up global recognition and a slew of medals in the ensuing years, including a gold and silver in snowboarding at the Paralympics in Pyeongchang in 2018, as well as 10 X Game gold medals for snowmobile, snobike and motocross.
“Getting to compete for Team USA at the Paralympic Games in 2018, winning gold and silver for my country, was the most surprising moment, hands down,” he says.
“It was also an incredible moment not just because I won, but because 15 athletes competing in snowboarding were using equipment that I developed.”
“I would not be able to do anything the way I do without it” –Jacob Johanen on the cochlear implant that’s given him a third act
36-year-old, Jacob Johanen, a native of Gothenburg, Sweden, describes his life as happening in three parts, or acts.
Act one: in 2004, aged 19-20, he was a happy-go-lucky, super sociable young man with a part-time job and a girlfriend, who suddenly discovered he had a rare disease, Cogan syndrome, which causes vision problems, vertigo and hearing loss. In the space of a couple of weeks, Johanen’s hearing disappeared almost completely.
“It turned my life upside down,” he says. “It was a daily struggle. It was very difficult for me.”
With the help of medication, a hearing aid and strategies like lip reading, he was able to gain some hearing back. He still suffered quite a lot: constant tinnitus in his ear, exhaustion from trying to communicate and engineer social situations where he would be able to hear best and recurring eye inflammations during that period, which he describes as “torture.” He worked to reestablish his studies, social life and work, and coped quite well for the next eight years, a period he terms his “second life.”
Then, in 2012, the little hearing he had left went completely. Doctors re-introduced the possibility of a cochlear implant (when it was initially mentioned when he was first diagnosed, he rejected the idea).
“I was older. I had a different confidence, a different self image. At this point in life, I had much more to lose. I had built up a life, even with all these bad circumstances, that I wanted to continue living. I didn’t want to pause all of this,” Johanen says.
He also didn’t have a choice: if he was going to hear again, he would need the cochlear implant, which includes a microphone and speech processor that sits outside of the body, and uses EXERA® fine medical wire from Sandvik to stimulate the auditory nerves to deliver sound, while bypassing the damaged portions of the ear.
After hearing only tinnitus in his ear for eight years, Johanen finally heard sounds again. Part three of his life has a new soundtrack: his wife’s voice, his friends laughing around him, his social work clients calling him on the phone, asking for help or advice.
“When I put them on, I hear so well. I get constantly reminded of how much it gives me because at the end of the day, I take my aids off. In the morning, I wake up, I hear nothing. The cochlear implant affects me in all aspects of life, and it’s all positive,” he says.
“I feel safe” – Amanda Rosengren on the glucose monitoring device that’s allowing her to be a more independent teen
Born and raised in Stockholm, Amanda Rosengren is a 13-year-old girl who loves gymnastics, acting and art – activities she pursues with fervour alongside attending school each day.
Amanda is also managing Type 1 diabetes, which she was diagnosed with at the age of four. Her parents spent years taking finger prick blood samples to manually check her blood sugar levels – as many as 20 times a day.
“Me and my husband, we had to get up during the night and check her blood sugar with finger sticks. We had to set the clock in the middle of the night, so it was a 24/7 job to check because you didn’t know. You couldn’t really see and you didn’t know what blood sugar she had. It was like a surprise every time,” Amanda’s mother, Helen Blomqvist, tells HuffPost.
In 2014, the hospital where Amanda was a patient suggested she try a CGM device, which monitors her blood glucose in real time and has three parts: a monitor, a transmitter and a sensor that’s slimmer than a needle, which detects glucose levels in the blood, measuring a chemical reaction with glucose oxidase every few minutes. The glucose is converted to hydrogen peroxide, which creates an electrical signal as it reacts to the sensor, which is transmitted through a tiny wire, created by medical engineering group, Sandvik.
Amanda changes the device weekly, which she uses alongside her insulin pump. She simply needs to peek at the Apple Watch on her wrist – which is connected to her phone – to check her blood sugar levels while she’s at school. The watch vibrates if her blood sugar is too high or too low.
“I don’t think about it so much,” says Amanda, who is now able to be independent in school for the first time. Thanks to the device, she no longer needs to have someone monitoring her.
“It’s like day and night. Before, you worried a lot because you didn’t know what blood sugar level Amanda had. Now you can see it, it’s visualised. This is a life-changer for sure,” says Helen.
With Amanda’s blood sugar values transmitted every five minutes and pre-set alarms on the device, the family is finally able to sleep through the night.
“It has made me aware of how grateful I am for everything that I have in my life” – Andrew Johnson on his life-changing deep brain stimulation surgery
Andrew Johnson was working for a large New Zealand bank as Senior Legal Counsel, celebrating his son’s second birthday and looking forward to the arrival of his second child, when he was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease, aged 35. Parkinson’s disease is an incurable progressive degenerative neurological disorder affecting movement, motor function and cognitive skills.
“Physically, I was having trouble finding treatment that would allow me to live a relatively normal life. I was having difficulty finding periods of relative stability: I was either rigid and stuck, unable to move quickly or flailing wildly around with dyskinesia, the unwanted limb movement associated with particular medications,” explains Johnson.
A couple of years after his diagnosis, Johnson learned about DBS, deep brain stimulation surgery, which research has shown can prolong the efficacy and longevity of treatment in early-onset Parkinson’s. The surgery implants electrodes into the brain on a lead. A 0.1mm thin wire – part of Sandvik’s EXERA® fine medical wire range – attaches to the lead that runs through the body and connects to a battery-operated stimulator. Day to day, Johnson hardly has to think about the device, although you can program a range of settings to change the levels of stimulation.
Johnson doesn’t hesitate in calling the surgery “life changing.” These days, he enjoys exercising, socialising, reading, playing music and focusing on the now – instead of fretting about the future or rueing the past..
“It gave me control over my body again. It has made me aware of how grateful I am for everything that I have in my life. Close friends, an amazing wife, great kids, a warm place to live, good food and better wine (though much reduced in volume of consumption), the New Zealand health system and access to world class medical treatment… Then I forget I have Parkinson’s and make the best of the hand of cards I was dealt,” says Johnson.