We Find A Way - TEDMED 2016

     It was a throwaway comment.  It wasn’t the main topic of her talk.  Her actual talk was describing a new approach that directs cancer-fighting drugs to attack only the cells at the tumor site.  This idea effectively eliminates the damage to other cells that drugs cause on their way to the cancer site. 

     The speaker, Laura Indolfi, has an impressive resume that includes MIT, Harvard, University “Federico II” of Naples (Italy, not Florida) and Massachusetts General Hospital, among others.  But that’s not what I found most interesting about her or her talk.

     In the middle of her story, Ms. Indolfi was describing her research, where it came from and what comes next.  She mentioned not knowing how blood moves in a certain, very specific way.  And she said, ‘we find a way to do that’ and then she went on with her talk. 

     We find a way.  That simple, unassuming phrase provided the foundation and inspiration for my entire experience at TEDMED 2016.  It wasn’t a question, it wasn’t a hurdle, it was a statement of fact.  This is what we do.  We find a way to solve that problem.

     The ‘we’ I am talking about is both the group of incredibly well-educated people assembled at TEDMED, most of whom have a bowl of alphabet soup after their names, and the people from our community, the Columbia Gorge, which includes a combination of people with alphabet soup after their names and people with a bowl of life experiences they share.

     I was fortunate enough to attend TEDMED 2016 at the invitation of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as a representative of a Culture of Health Prize winning community.  It was inspiring and hopeful; the most worthwhile conference I have attended in a very long time. 

     The speakers and the setting made me think about what we are doing in the Gorge and how we can do more if it – and do it better.  It reminded me that we are not the only ones trying to make people healthy and build healthy communities.  There are people – smart, dedicated, relentless people – across the country and around the world working to improve health in every sense of the word.

     A few of my favorite speakers included Mona Hanna-Attisha. The pediatrician who discovered and exposed the dangerous levels of lead in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water after testing blood lead levels in her patients.  She said she doesn’t want her community to be defined by the problem, rather she wants to be known for how they respond to it. Mona is finding a way.

     Lloyd Pendleton, an elder in the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City who led the effort to reduce homelessness in Utah by 91% by simply finding and building more housing for people.  (Ok, there’s more to the story, but it is pretty impressive.)  Lloyd is finding a way.

     Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters. She started her talk by apologizing to anyone in the audience who may have suffered because of what her son did.  She has become an advocate for brain health awareness and intervention.  Mrs. Klebold is finding a way.

     Kaitlyn Hova, a professional violinist, coder, neuroscientist and synesthete–someone with the ability to see sounds.  When she hears musical notes or letters, she sees colors.  It is a condition that affects 1 in 23 people in the US.  She also created a program to 3D print musical instruments.  Kaitlyn is finding a way.

     David R. Williams, identified in 2014 as one of the World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds. He has developed the Everyday Discrimination Scale, currently one of the most widely used measures to assess perceived discrimination in health studies. He also led the study that shows “Blacks with a college degree have a lower life expectancy than Whites with only a high school diploma.”  David is finding a way.

     Like Ms. Indolfi, all of these people and more, are looking at the parts we haven’t figured out yet and saying, ‘we find a way.’  In the Gorge, we are doing the same thing!  We are finding a way.

     Whether it is changing city and county policy around housing, creating the most robust veggie prescription program in the country, or collaborating across health care, social services, philanthropic, and government sectors, we are making people healthier and building a healthy community. 

     And, when we come to something we don’t know how to answer, we get together, put a bowl of our collective soup on the table, and find a way.