December 13, 2019 - Chris Marion was waterskiing with friends in 2017 when choppy water caused him to fall, his head getting stuck in the handle of the rope. The force of the fall caused his skull to become separated from his spine, an injury more commonly known as an internal decapitation.
At the time, Marion didn’t realize just how seriously he’d been injured. But as a veteran firefighter and paramedic, he knew it wasn’t good.
“I have responded to plenty of bad calls during my career, and in certain circumstances looked at or gotten that look from my partner of ‘This isn’t going to be a good outcome but keep doing everything we can.’ I saw that look in the EMT’s eyes,” said Marion, who lives in St. Germain, Wisconsin.
Yet two weeks after the accident, Marion was walking. Four weeks after that, he was discharged from the hospital. And this past Friday, he stood before hundreds of Medtronic employees and told them how the company’s medical devices played a major role in his amazing recovery.
Marion was one of the patients who spoke at the company’s annual Employee Holiday Program. The gathering took place at the Medtronic operational headquarters in Minnesota. More than a thousand employees attended in person, while thousands more viewed it online or held similar events at offices around the world.
In 1960, company co-founder Earl Bakken began the tradition of hosting a holiday program as a reminder to employees that their work supports the Medtronic Mission — to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life.
“This Holiday Program is one of the greatest gifts Earl gave Medtronic employees,” said Medtronic Chairman and CEO Omar Ishrak.
This Holiday Program is one of the greatest gifts Earl gave Medtronic employees.Omar Ishrak Medtronic Chairman and CEO
As part of the program, patients from around the world travel to Minnesota to share their stories about how medical technology has improved their lives. They are joined by the doctors who have treated them. Medtronic stresses to employees — through events like the holiday program — the importance of strong collaboration with physicians and a commitment to patients.
It was Linda Carrier’s doctor who recommended she begin using a Medtronic insulin pump to help control her Type 1 diabetes. Carrier, an avid runner, had sometimes struggled to control low blood sugars during long races before making the switch to a new pump two years ago.
“With this pump, I ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days,” said Carrier, who lives in Pinehurst, North Carolina. “This means I was the first woman with Type 1 diabetes who completed the World Marathon challenge. That’s 183.4 miles in 168 hours — and get this ― with zero incidents of low blood sugars.”
For Marion, the holiday program was a chance to publicly thank Ishrak, Medtronic President Geoff Martha and other employees. Shortly after his accident, his brother-in-law reached out to Ishrak on social media asking for help. Ishrak sent the message to Martha, and several phone calls later, employees with the Restorative Therapies Group were driving through the night to deliver Medtronic equipment needed to perform delicate spinal surgery on Marion.
Martha said that while Marion is one of millions of patients that Medtronic has helped, he and the other patients who spoke at the holiday program, are more than mere statistics.
“None of these patients are numbers to us,” Martha said. “This is family. And every patient is important no matter who you are.”
For Medtronic employee Rhea May, of Golden, Colorado, there was one patient at the holiday program who was extra special – her three-year-old son Connor.
As a result of a traumatic brain injury Connor suffered at birth, May and her husband, Johnny, were initially prohibited from having much direct contact with their baby while he was in the NICU. The one exception was when family members could change Connor’s diaper, take his temperature, and move a Medtronic pulse oximeter from one tiny foot to the other.
May told the audience how she cherished those moments with Connor. And she also cherished the level of support she got from Medtronic. She had accepted a new job within the Minimally Invasive Therapies Group when she was eight months pregnant. But after Connor was born, she worried she might lose that job because she needed to delay her start date. Her hiring manager told her take her time and focus on her family.
“Since then, I have thanked her for allowing me to keep my career, and she has told me that anyone would have done what she did for me – but I don’t think that’s true,” May said. “Not all companies focus on the personal worth of all employees and empower their managers to have the courage to stand up for their direct reports. I believe that we are all lucky to be a part of a company that enables their employees to bring their best selves to work and pursue their careers.”