Q&A with Thomas J. Fogarty, MD, FII Founder and Director

Given his impressive track record for inventions and the boundless energy he exhibits at the age of 85, no one would be surprised if Dr. Fogarty announced he had created his very own fountain of youth.

This passionate innovator never ceases to inspire and motivate us with the critical role he continues to play at the Fogarty Institute – checking in with the entrepreneurs on a daily basis as he brainstorms ideas and encourages them to keep looking for better pathways to solve critical problems, while always keeping the needs of patients first.

He is also deeply involved within the organization, serving as a board member and advising the team, as well as working with outside groups, including Pulse Biosciences, where he is a board member; and advising numerous other companies that he either co-founded or helped form.

We had the opportunity to catch up with Dr. Fogarty after his birthday celebration at the Fog Shop to delve into his career for advice and lessons learned and to seek his insight on the current state of the industry.

Q. What is the secret behind your successful career, and what are some of the accomplishments you are most proud of?

A. Having great mentors throughout my career was definitely key to my success. It’s why even today I am so interested in mentoring – they make us who we are.

I am fortunate that my first mentor was my strong mother, who basically raised me on her own, and along the way taught me how to be the best person I could be; keeping me out of trouble was her biggest challenge.

Throughout high school and college, I worked as a scrub technician at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati on cases for Dr. Jack Cranley, a peripheral vascular surgeon who took me under his wing and eventually convinced me to go to college and medical school. His lessons stick with me – particularly how he always encouraged me to push the envelope to find better ways to address dire health needs.

When I had the opportunity to become a mentor myself, my objective was always to develop physicians who one day would be better than I was, which is probably one of the most rewarding and satisfying aspects of my career.

In fact, one of my proudest achievements, the invention of the balloon catheter, is in large part thanks to the mentoring of Dr. Cranley, who challenged me to find a less invasive way to remove blood clots. At the time, nearly half the patients died or lost limbs in the long, open procedures. Dr. Cranley made me go through all the testing that is now required by the FDA to make sure the balloon catheter would work, and the device was used roughly six weeks after it was conceived. The new procedure was done under local anesthesia and with only a small incision. It was extremely rewarding for a scrub technician to get a taste of what could be done — and I wanted to repeat it.

And I am very proud of launching the Fogarty Institute, which is based on the premise of the power of mentoring. There is little that is more rewarding than helping someone accomplish a goal they set out to achieve, while simultaneously advancing healthcare and helping patients.

Q. What are some of the biggest challenges or stumbling blocks you faced during your career, and how did you overcome them?

A. It’s an incredible challenge to displace deeply engrained concepts and traditions, particularly in surgery. That’s because students are taught to do procedures in a very specific way and are encouraged not to deviate from this standard, even though we are not going to improve without trying new strategies that go against the grain. And yet, when you come up with new ideas, you often meet a lot of opposition, which can be discouraging. You have to deeply believe in what you are doing, maintain your focus and keep going. If you put the effort in, you will meet your goals.

Q. What keeps you so engaged in the medtech industry today?

A. It’s exciting to know that there are still so many unmet needs that we can address with new, better and more efficient therapies. I am also invigorated by the collaboration within our industry, including the Fogarty Institute and like-minded organizations, physicians, industry veterans and the FDA. I am very optimistic about the future of our industry, and I look forward to continuing to stay involved.

Q. Which healthcare space are you most excited about?

A. The venous space is still underserved – there are a lot of problems that need to be solved, primarily because we previously didn’t have the technology to non-invasively perform surgery on the arteries. Today, companies like InterVene and Radial are changing the paradigm and promising to make a big difference. It’s that type of startup that we need more of.

Q. How did you celebrate your 85thbirthday?  

A. Certainly a highlight was the lunch hosted by the Fogarty Institute team and startups at the Fog Shop, where they served one of my favorite guilty pleasures, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Then, I had dinner with my wife at The Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse in Palo Alto, one of my favorite restaurants.

I am also looking forward to taking my annual fishing trip to Alaska with one of my sons and industry friends as a post-birthday celebration.

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