I had the chance to speak with you for a moment at your Love Leadership book-signing following your presentation at the International City Manager's Conference in Montreal last week. Thank you very much once again for your years of dedication and action aimed at helping underprivileged and underserved persons in our country. We are a much better land for it!
I was especially touched on a personal level by your call for perseverance in doing good. As a first-year faculty member here at the University of Virginia in 1985, I joined some colleagues in an effort to create a new type of medical device that would help surgeons guide the tips of catheters through the vasculature using magnetic fields. We could foresee applications for this in neurosurgery, cardiology, and several other areas of medicine. However, try as we might, we couldn't get any government funding to support the work. Finally, one day in 1987, I started contacting private foundations to seek the funding we needed. Over a five year period, I researched all the foundations in the U.S., and wrote 30 letters a week to those whose published guidelines looked like they might be a match for us.
Slowly but surely the funding started to come, and eventually we reached the point where we could do all the technology demonstrations needed to generate good, high-quality, publishable data, and that led to our original patents on the device and, eventually, to enough venture capital to create a new start-up company around the concept. Finally, in 2004, that company, Stereotaxis, Inc. received FDA approvals and began marketing their systems. It's now traded on NASDAQ (STXS). Without 25 years worth of dedicated effort by many people, though, this wouldn't have been possible.
The moral of this particular story is that young people should never give up. You don't have to be an academic superstar to bring something to a successful conclusion. What you have to be is persistent and willing to hear "no" a lot: only one out of every 60 of those letters I sent to private foundations came back even remotely encouraging of our project! But with enough effort, even those kinds of numbers can work for you!
Thank you once again for your inspiring message in Montreal, and may Operation HOPE flourish mightily in the years to come!
With every good wish,
George T. Gillies
George T. Gillies
Research Professor, School of Engineering and Applied Science, U.Va.
Clinical Professor, Department of Neurosurgery