From Trauma, Inspiration: 3 TEDMED Scholars and Their Journeys to Palm Springs

Vania Deonizio, Founder, Dancin Power
Vania Deonizio, a musician/dancer and founder of Dancin Power, crowd-sourced her way to TEDMED2015.

Integral to our TEDMED mission is assembling a diverse mix of Delegates to present a variety of perspectives on new ideas, trends, treatments or technologies that can contribute to health and medicine. Some exceptional individuals – people we believe would make outstanding Delegates, who would benefit greatly from joining us – qualify for scholarship subsidies if financial obstacles stand in the way of their attendance. Their stories are often inspirational, to say the least. Here are several we’re delighted to welcome to this year’s conference, kicking off today:

Vania Deonizio, Founder, Dancin Power

Dancin' Power


“I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to a family of musicians, and was introduced to various rhythm of music and dance very early. Growing up I faced a major childhood trauma that almost took my life. That is when I found in dance a way to escape from that horrible situation, along with freedom and hope for a better life. I started Dancin Power (we use the healing power of music and dance to improve the quality of life of hospitalized kids) to help children who, like me, find themselves stuck in difficult situations they didn’t ask for. Dancin Power gives these kids a way to express themselves in a safe welcoming environment. It provides them with an outlet to experience joy and laughter, and most importantly, it reminds them that even though they are sick and in a hospital room, they are still kids and have the right to be happy!

“A few weeks ago I found myself searching for inspiration in TED talks about innovative ideas in health; that’s when I came across TEDMED for the first time. I immediately connected with its concept and felt that Dancin Power and I belong here. We are a small nonprofit; despite the fact that I didn’t have the funds/resources to apply, I didn’t allow that to stop me from going after what I believe should happen. I did my homework and sought who I should connect with via LinkedIn and then was awarded a Partial Frontline Scholars grant. Through crowdfunding I was able to raise the remainder amount to attend the conference within 48 hours! Today I am here and couldn’t be more excited for all that is about to happen! May the inspiration, connections and opportunities for collaboration begin!”

Jessica Harthcock, Founder, Utilize Health

Utilize Health“We all find our career or our calling through different means – maybe it’s an interest we’ve had since we were 5. Maybe it’s a hobby-turned-career. Maybe we just ‘fell into it’ (yep, that’s a pun… and it’s what I did). For me, it was an up-close and personal experience I had with the healthcare system.

“In 2004 I was practicing my springboard diving routine at a gymnastics studio, when I landed wrong and heard a crunch: I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed. My official diagnosis was a spinal cord injury with paralysis at the T3-4 level. That meant I could move my arms, but nothing below my sternum. The doctors told me the damage was permanent, and I would never walk again.

“I spent years traveling across the U.S. searching for treatment options. I enrolled in a research study, explored alternative medicines, and continued very traditional forms of physical therapy. After nearly three years, I took a step and eventually that step turned into 10 more steps. Slowly but surely I progressed. Today, I am 11 years post-injury and walk unassisted.

“Throughout the recovery process, I realized that finding treatment options wasn’t efficient. It could be improved upon in many areas; time, financial resources and energy were drained. I wasn’t alone; countless others shared my experience. Many of them heard of my success and reached out for help. By the 100th patient, I knew there had to be a better way.

“Thus, Utilize Health was born. Dedicated to making the treatment process easier for patients, Utilize Health aspires to improve patient outcomes, decrease costs, and change the lives of patients for the better.

“I started watching TED talks years ago – and now, I am inspired daily by people who share my passion for helping others and making our healthcare system better. TEDMED has been a bucket list item for several years. I’ve always been inspired by the doers and dreamers of the world (which is everyone at TEDMED). I still have to pinch myself that I’ll actually be there this year!”

Amy Price, PhD

Amy Price, PhD“I came to this from a drastic car crash where I had significant brain and spine injuries. It was a tough path and I wanted to make it easier for others. First I was a patient advocate but the company was run by a group that ran afoul of the FDA and I realized I did not know what real research was.

“As part of my rehab and to redefine my destiny I ended up at Oxford where I am completing a DPHIL on running Public Led Online Trials where the public can research questions of interest to them and we can learn together. Here is some more information on what I am doing: One is a blog written for Oxford; another for the British Medical Journal; the third item is a video Oxford did with me in it for students with disabilities. I plan to blog for my college on this, specifically for the Oxford Thinking Campaign and on our website.”

How the DIY Mindset Can Help Us Build a Culture of Health

Maker Nurse
An idea-in-process at Maker Nurse.

By Anna Young, Co-Founder of MakerNurse

With the right tools, anyone can use their creativity to invent or re-imagine devices that heal.

For the past six years, I’ve traveled the globe to explore—and invent—do-it-yourself (DIY) health technologies and understand how to best bridge the “maker movement” and health care to bring tangible solutions directly to the bedside.

Makers are the tinkerers, inventors, and everyday people who mash up old-school crafting with computer wizardry to put a new spin on common products or build new things—from kettles and toasters to robots and drones. With an explosion of personal technology such as 3D printers and microcontrollers, and a shift toward open communities of practice, where people freely share their ideas and designs to be replicated or modified, a whole culture of making has emerged. Now, anyone with a DIY mindset can shape, form, assemble, and transform objects using their own hands-on skills and ingenuity.

And it’s happening in healthcare. There is a growing community of “stealth innovators” who experiment, modify and create medical devices.

So, who are these medical makers?

Throughout my travels, one thing has been consistent: Nurses are quietly tinkering with everyday medical devices and hacking materials from the supply closet to create new tools to care for their patients.

For the past two years, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, my colleagues and I have focused on uncovering nurse making in U.S. hospitals to identify resources that could help bring their ideas to fruition and lead to improvements in patient care.

In our explorations, we have found nurses whose making helped reduce costs and improve patient outcomes. Yet, because their inventions have no billing code or published research behind them, they go completely unrecognized by the system. So, we started to imagine what might happen if we moved their prototyping and ideas out of the supply closet and into the spotlight—and gave them access to the same tools and materials used by professional designers and engineers, radically democratized by the maker movement.

Last month, we brought these tools and materials directly to the bedside. We opened the doors to the country’s first medical maker space on a patient floor of John Sealy Hospital at UTMB in Galveston, Texas. Although nurses at UTMB spearheaded the project, the makerspace is open to all medical staff and health professions students, and patients and caregivers are invited to join providers in co-creating tools and devices. Stocked with equipment ranging from pliers and sewing needles to 3D printers and laser cutters, the makerspace also includes a new class of healthcare prototyping tools not found in your average makerspace: modular “vital signs” construction sets, sterilizible materials, biocompatible adhesives, and safety procedures for scaling prototypes.

This is a culture shift. We’re not just reinventing the provider’s instrument bag. We’re re-instrumenting a hospital. And we’re reinventing healthcare. Through medical making, those on the frontlines can develop solutions and introduce new hardware into the care-delivery process faster than a traditional medical device company. Closer to the patient than a biomedical engineer, they can deliver truly personalized medicine and n=1 devices.

We are continuing to develop new tools and resources to help providers, patients, families, caregivers and others “in the trenches” make health. Our new MakerHealth Create site, which launches on November 19, is our first step to turning more ideas into practical devices. And helping bring makers, their devices and their patients out of the shadows.

My hope is that one day, your doctor prescribes not just a pill, but a blueprint for making an easy-to-open pill box. And you go not just to a pharmacy, but to a craft store with your occupational therapist. And that if you have an idea for improving healthcare, you go to a medical makerspace and make it!

It’s time to democratize innovation. When we all take part in devising solutions to improve health, we will accelerate a Culture of Health in this country.

A Healthcare Initiative Disguised as a Grocery Store

Doug Rauch
Daily Table in Dorchester, Mass.

By Doug Rauch
Founder and President of Daily Table

At Daily Table, we are on a mission to make the healthy choice the easy choice for residents in our community. As one of the first fully nonprofit grocery stores in the U.S., Daily Table is an experiment that uses one pressing challenge – wasted food – as a solution for another — hunger and malnutrition in low-income communities.

Our mission is to sell delicious, wholesome food at very affordable prices. Daily Table is designed to reach food-insecure individuals who struggle to eat well, many of whom also face health issues that stem from a poor diet.  Responding to the sad truth that nutrients are expensive and calories are cheap, Daily Table believes that the solution to hunger and obesity in America is not just a full stomach, but a healthy, affordable meal. In short, Daily Table is a healthcare initiative disguised as a grocery store.

We sell fresh produce and groceries, as well as prepared meals that are cooked onsite in a professional kitchen every day. We believe that the food we eat with our families plays a big role in our well-being, so we make sure that everything we offer has our customers’ health (and wallets) in mind. Every food item in the store meets strict nutritional guidelines for salt, sugar and fiber, and can be purchased with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds. Because customers get to come in and choose what they want in a normal shopping environment, it increases the likelihood the food will be consumed. You choose it; you use it. And our customers have the power of the purse; we have to earn their patronage every day. This engenders a sense of self-worth and dignity often missing from charitable handouts.

Our unique sourcing strategy distinguishes Daily Table from the average neighborhood food market. Although one in six Americans is food-insecure, up to 40 percent of the food produced in this country is wasted: It is tilled back into the soil at farms, left in dumpsters behind supermarkets, and thrown into wastebaskets in our homes. Daily Table relies on manufacturers, growers and supermarkets to donate their perfectly edible, excess food as a primary source of our food supply. In this way, Daily Table can keep its prices so low that they are comparable to traditional fast-food alternatives in the neighborhood.

As a retail store, Daily Table’s flagship location is anchored in the Dorchester community outside of Boston. It has created about 30 new jobs, with 75 percent of the store’s retail and kitchen hires living within a two-mile radius of the store. The retail space is bright, clean, and inviting, and the store team treats customers with respect and warmth, creating a welcome and enjoyable shopping experience for all.

We all have a role to play in transforming our communities and changing our culture to one that doesn’t simply value health, but delivers tangible opportunities for our communities to live healthy lives.

Daily Table’s model simultaneously addresses food insecurity and health in a respectful, dignified manner for our customers. It also presents a unique, market-based solution to the problem of wasted food. We’re confident that this combination will help the communities where we open stores to build a Culture of Health, and give us a solid foundation to expand into other markets. After all, the need for affordable, delicious, convenient and wholesome food is everywhere.

Watch Doug Rauch’s TEDMED 2015 talk, “A dignified solution for wasted food”, here

Breaking New Ground for the Future of Medicine

Chris Mason
In this Big Think video, Chris Mason explains why our human future requires colonization of outer space.

When asked to name the person, alive or dead, with whom he’d most like to collaborate, Chris Mason – a biophysicist and expert in computational genomics – has a ready answer: “Isaac Asimov.” Why? “Because he’d help right away.”

This makes perfect sense for Chris, a “proud contributor to the 500-Year Plan” who is working with NASA to create the “metagenome” as part of the long-term survival of Earth’s inhabitants. A “systems thinker” who is, perhaps, best known for building the first genetic profile of a metropolitan transit system, created by collecting DNA swabs from the benches, turnstiles and handrails throughout New York City’s subway system, Chris characterizes multinomic data in a variety of environments, from cruise ships to Chernobyl-struck villages to outer space.

Understanding the collective microbiome has important implications for public health — past, present and future, Chris explains. His bacteria-collection project provided “a forensic ability to learn about the ancestry of the people who transit a station,” he said. The DNA people leave in their wake provides information about their ethnicity, the places they’ve visited, the illnesses they’ve had, even the foods they’ve eaten. This information can be used to predict and plan for challenges that lie ahead – on earth or elsewhere. “I am #BreakingThrough the central dogma of molecular biology, single-planet planning, and limits on DNA/RNA detection, function, & design,” Chris says.

Also focused on the mysterious frontier of bacterial life is Chris’s fellow speaker Ken Nealson, the Wrigley Chair of Environmental Studies and Professor of Earth Sciences and Biological Sciences at the University of Southern California. Ken tells us that he is “#BreakingThrough by challenging current paradigms of microbial life via ground-breaking revelations of bacteria that ‘breathe rocks’ and ‘eat electrons.’” As a highly experienced senior scientist and mentor to many, Ken is at the forefront of electromicrobiology, a new branch of science that examines how bacteria produce and react to electricity, focusing on practical implications. “They turn out to have an incredible talent for sewage treatment, for example,” Ken says. “Stick an electrical anode in human waste and it attracts communities of bacteria that eat feces and breathe electrons. Hook them up to a fuel cell and you have a self-powered wastewater treatment system that produces significantly less sludge.”

Understanding these processes (which Ken and his team discovered) offers insights into challenges as disparate as toxic waste recycling, water reclamation, energy production, the control of harmful medical or dental biofilms, and even the search for extreme life. However, Ken sees one potential application as especially urgent: “My personal goal is developing these systems to a point where we could fly them into villages in the third world [so] people would bring their sewage to the treatment plant and get clean water, and you wouldn’t need any outside power.”

The human nervous system has super powers too, as it turns out. In our Catalyzing Great Science session, neurosurgeon Kevin Tracey, a pioneer in bioelectronics medicine (where molecular medicine, bioengineering and neuroscience converge), will share the frontiers of this new, hybrid field. Kevin’s unusual career path has produced a series of innovative discoveries, spawning clinical trials, start-up companies, and numerous accolades; right now, he says, he is “#BreakingThrough bioelectronic medicine by identifying mechanisms to exploit nerves to make drugs.”

Kevin is working on creating safe bioelectronics devices to replace the ineffective, toxic drugs used to treat diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes and even cancer. The “aha” moment that introduced this possibility occurred when Kevin succeeded at using an electrode to stimulate a nerve to trigger an immune response to inflammation. “It was immediately clear that neural circuits reflexively control the immune system, and that by identifying and mapping these, it would be possible to develop bioelectronic devices to replace anti-inflammatory drugs,” Kevin says.

Asked how he keeps himself focused, energized and inspired to continually push the boundaries of what’s possible, Kevin told us that he regularly asks himself “What experiment can I do, right now, to help the most people tomorrow?”




It Starts at Home: Making Health a Shared Value in Housing

NYC skyline housing
The Bronx by Axel Drainville is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

By Diana Hernández, PhD

Diana Hernández’s community-oriented research examines the intersections between the built environment (housing and neighborhoods), poverty, equity, and health, with a particular emphasis on energy insecurity. She is an assistant professor of sociomedical sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and JPB environmental health fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“We were intervening too far downstream in the lives of our clients,” said Health Leads’ Rebeccca Onie in her 2012 TEDMED talk. “By the time they came to us, they were already in crisis.”

Onie was describing her days as a young law student fighting for the rights of low-income families. Her clients were grappling with the challenging intersection of health problems and housing problems, such as a man who couldn’t pay his rent because he was paying for his HIV medication or a young girl with asthma who regularly woke up covered in cockroaches. Rebecca took a hands-on approach, visiting her clients’ homes, collecting the cockroaches, and presenting them to the judges in the courtroom. This experience, among others, ultimately led Onie to found Health Leads, an innovative program that enables healthcare providers to prescribe basic resources like food, heat and housing, and then connects patients with those services.

We know that housing—particularly the affordability, adequacy and stability of housing—is one of several areas with vital implications for our health and overall well-being. Affordable housing ensures that residents can meet other basic needs, such as food and medical expenses. Adequate housing conditions help prevent the onset and exacerbation of asthma and other chronic health conditions, and promote better mental health and cognitive development. Stable housing ensures that people have continued social support and institutional ties.

It is imperative that we make health a shared value in the housing sector. There is a growing body of evidence supporting the links between housing and health, but engaging stakeholders in this effort remains a challenge. Three key stakeholders can play a more central role in creating value, particularly in low-income, multiple-unit housing: real estate developers, property managers, and residents.

Affordable housing creates opportunities for low-income individuals and families to maintain a home while on a limited household budget. Real estate developers have benefited from a variety of financing tools, such as low-income housing tax credits and new market tax credits, to create projects that would otherwise not be financially feasible. However, only recently have building standards begun to factor in health. For example, the 2015 Enterprise Green Communities (EGC) Criteria incorporate health into each dimension, from design and material selection to considerations of the neighborhood fabric, and devote an entire section to creating a healthy living environment. These criteria will build a solid foundation for healthy and sustainable affordable housing development, while paving the way for health to be viewed as an important value in the housing sector.

But it is not enough to design buildings for health—they also need to be maintained in ways that protect health over time. For instance, due to limited investment in regular maintenance and necessary upgrades, today’s public housing is dilapidated, jeopardizing the health and dignity of our nation’s most vulnerable residents. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has recently created the Rental Assistance Demonstration program to allow public housing authorities to preserve and improve properties and “address the $26 billion dollar nationwide backlog of deferred maintenance.” While this investment is crucial, we also need stringent stipulations to avoid a similar crisis in the future. Stricter maintenance policies should also be extended to private housing to ensure that health becomes a priority across all housing types.

Residents themselves also have a vital role to play in this effort—their knowledge and engagement are essential to promoting health. I’m collaborating on a project that is focused on smoke-free housing policy compliance and enforcement, and my community partners and I have implemented a “building ambassador” model. Building ambassadors (BAs) are residents who champion smoke-free living environments and health, acting as liaisons between tenants, the property manager and the research team. BAs are modeled after community health workers, who promote health in at-risk groups by supporting such issues as chronic disease management and reducing environmental triggers that cause asthma. Trained to understand the health consequences of smoking and how smoke-free buildings can help reduce exposures to health risks, the BAs assist with health education activities for their buildings. BAs work to build a Culture of Health right at home by reminding fellow tenants to consider their health and the health of their neighbors.

Greater attention to health as a key value in housing, especially in low-income housing, will increase demand for healthier design and improved maintenance while also driving social support from family and neighbors. Making health a shared value in housing requires the engagement of housing developers, property managers and residents who are charged with creating, maintaining and supporting opportunities for health in a primary physical and social environment—the home.


Fueling Innovation by Connecting Dots Between Health, Medicine and Technology

This paperweight sits on the desk of Sangeeta Bhatia. It is a source of motivation in her quest to inspire her multidisciplinary team to connect technology and medicine. Sangeeta will speak in our Techno-Utopia session.

Increasingly, innovation sparks from creative connections across disciplines. Drawing from deep expertise in several branches of science, some of our TEDMED speakers employ their own interdisciplinary knowledge to create breakthrough technology that is advancing healthcare and our understanding of human potential.

Theoretical neuroscientist-cum-technologist Vivienne Ming is a co-founder of Socos, where machine learning and cognitive neuroscience combine to maximize students’ life outcomes. The company recently introduced Muse, an app that helps parents and caregivers support the development of young children. Drawing from decades of educational research, Muse aims to “give parents a superpower” by pulling rich detail from each child’s life – whether from the playground, classroom, or at home – and analyzes that data to track their linguistic and metacognitive development. Based on its findings, Muse then sends parents and caregivers daily individualized recommended questions and activities that would most successfully foster their child’s development.

At TEDMED, Vivienne will speak in our Human Explorations session about how we can best harness and maximize human potential. Through her work, she is “breaking through educational inequality, mixing cognitive modeling and neuroscience with a simple text-a-day to maximize life outcomes,” she says, noting that the question that she strives to answer with her research is, “What is the economic cost of unrealized human potential and how do we drive that to zero?”

Russ Altman, professor of bioengineering, genetics, medicine and computer science at Stanford, uses machine learning as well. He and his team strive to understand drug actions at the molecular, cellular, organism and population levels, including how genetic variation impacts drug response. “There is a shortage of new drugs in the pipeline, despite our ability to make unprecedented measurements about molecules, cells, organs, individuals and populations,” Russ explains, adding that he wants to use these measurement data to change the way we discover and evaluate drugs.

Russ says that he feels “privileged to work at the intersection of biology and computer science.” He was pursuing a graduate degree in biophysics in 1984, when Apple introduced the first Mac. “I was so excited by this computer (which I couldn’t afford) that I changed my PhD program to Medical Information Sciences, and bought a used Apple III (that’s right – !!!), and never looked back,” he shared with us.

Also innovating at the nexus of technology and medicine is Sangeeta Bhatia, cancer researcher, MIT professor and biotech entrepreneur, who tells us, “I am #BreakingThrough academic silos to converge engineering and biology on medical innovations.”

Trained as both a physician and engineer, Sangeeta directs a laboratory that leverages “tiny technologies” of miniaturization to yield inventions with new applications in tissue regeneration, stem cell differentiation, medical diagnostics, predictive toxicology and drug delivery. She and her trainees have launched more than ten biotechnology companies to improve human health.

“As a young woman, the daughter of Indian immigrants, I didn’t have many role models for the path on which I found myself,” Sangeeta recalls. “Nonetheless, I had three mentors (all men) who saw more for me than I saw for myself in high school, college, and then graduate school. They believed in what I had to offer and invested time and energy in pushing me beyond my comfort zone. As a mentor now, I realize how important this is—to recognize talent, in all its forms, and to energetically support it.”

Sangeeta keeps on her desk a paperweight inscribed with her personal and professional motto: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” That said, there is one risk she hasn’t yet pushed herself past – sky-diving. She explains: “When I was a child, my mom said I had to wait until I was older. Then I became a mom, my kids wouldn’t allow it! If it were risk-free, I would do it in a heartbeat.” Her compromise? “In my science, I try and make my lab a safe environment to ‘take an intellectual leap.’ I believe that is where the breakthroughs happen.”

Creating Healthy Communities: Our Fates Are Intertwined

By Mary Lou Goeke
Executive Director of the United Way of Santa Cruz County

United Way of Santa Cruz CountyFarm workers, business owners, teachers, teens, and elected officials—a cross-section of our community in Santa Cruz County, California—all came together recently to fundraise for a crucial program, the Aztecas Youth Soccer Academy. Founded by a probation officer, Aztecas uses soccer training and mentoring to redirect the lives of at-risk Latino youth who struggle with gangs, violence and poverty. This unity, this experience of rallying together behind an important cause, has become the norm in Santa Cruz County.

In Santa Cruz, we’re committed to coming together across sectors and across the community to engage everyone in the mission of improving health for our residents. At the United Way of Santa Cruz County, health is central to our primary goals: building a community that allows residents to prosper, ensuring children succeed in school, and helping families become financially independent.

More than two decades ago, stakeholders seeking to create a healthy community realized that their fates are intertwined. Our law enforcement officers would not succeed without our education leaders; our education leaders would not succeed without our faith communities; and our health care community and our social service sector would not succeed without involvement from the entire community.

Since then, we’ve joined forces to create and implement a variety of programs aimed at improving quality of life. We’ve worked to ensure all children have access to comprehensive medical, dental, vision and psychological care. We’ve launched an alternative-to-incarceration program that provides education, employment, treatment and social services to get people’s lives back on track. We’ve seen tremendous successes from our teen advocacy and leadership group, Jóvenes SANOS (Spanish for Healthy Youth), who helped enact policies to create healthier options in restaurants and corner markets.

We’ve seen seemingly unlikely allies drive forward work on important causes. Ecology Action, a local environmental organization, has been a great partner in reducing and preventing obesity through their work to create bike lanes, safe routes to school, and housing close to public transportation. Local law enforcement has sought our group’s help with pressing challenges, such as a recent increase in youth violence, acknowledging they can’t address the underlying problems alone.

In 2013, Santa Cruz was a winner of the inaugural Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize, which celebrates communities that have placed a priority on health and are creating powerful partnerships and deep commitments to help people live healthier lives.

Winning the Prize helped validate the work we were doing to build a Culture of Health and gave us the pride and confidence to tackle even tougher issues, such as homelessness, youth violence, and criminal justice reform.

Our committee to end homelessness, for example, is now implementing an innovative system to address the housing and health needs of homeless individuals and families. Using handheld devices, a variety of providers will use a shared system to identify and assess people’s needs, match them with the right resources, track the services they receive, and follow their progress over time.

When a challenge is identified, we’re able to bring together a roster of partners who already have strong relationships and strong records of success. We begin with the end goal – that everyone in Santa Cruz County should have access to safe, stable housing, for example – and identify the stakeholders who would play a role in making this a reality, including the people we’re trying to serve. Then we bring those people to the table. As a group, we turn data into action. Our every step is guided by the Community Assessment Project, an annual publication that details community goals and measures progress on air quality, unemployment, high school graduation, crime rates and other indicators.

Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. We had to build the right infrastructure for these partnerships to take place. We’ve trained more than 300 people from partner organizations on working productively in groups. We’ve refined this approach to collaboration for more than 20 years, and it’s become a discipline for us.

We’re all in this together, and, with each project, we’re taking important steps toward creating a culture that enables our residents to live the healthiest life possible.

Capturing the Emotional Impact of Vaccines: The Art of Saving a Life

Vaccines help children “be the best versions of themselves” says Malaysian singer/guitarist Yuna Zarai (Yuna). You can hear her song at

Vaccines make the world safer and better; they’ve saved millions of lives that would have otherwise been lost to diseases, and they bring better health and opportunity to families everywhere. Polio, for instance, is nearly eradicated, with a 99% drop in cases since 1988. It’s estimated that vaccines now save 2-3 million lives each year.

Vaccines are among the best investments we can make to give every child a healthy start at life. It costs just $20 (USD) to vaccinate a child against four devastating diseases for a lifetime. This helps communities thrive and economies grow stronger.

We’ve made dramatic progress in fighting diseases like polio, measles, and pneumonia but we’re far from done. One in five children does not have access to these important vaccines. More lives can be saved. Our goal is to ensure that all children, no matter where they are born, get the life-saving vaccines they need.

The Art of Saving a Life

The astonishingly and creatively curated stories, paintings, music, video, sculpture, personal narrative, drawings and other art forms that make up an art collection called The Art of Saving a Life are profoundly inspiring and emotional.

The aim of this multimedia collection, commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is to celebrate the critical role of vaccines in achieving improved health for all. The exhibit is the brainchild of curator Christine McNab, a global public health worker and communications expert; she will share her experiences “breaking through silos by marrying art and science to move hearts and minds” in our Back to Basics session. Thanks to the generous support of our Partner, GlaxoSmithKline, TEDMED 2015 Delegates will have the opportunity to see, hear and (most importantly) feel the tremendous impact of immunization – with the goal of energizing us all in the ongoing global challenge of protecting every child from life-threatening diseases.

Here’s a look at some of what we’ll see in Palm Springs:

Photographer Mary Ellen Mark*: If Not for the Rubella Vaccine …

© 2014 Mary Ellen Mark
© 2014 Mary Ellen Mark
© 2014 Mary Ellen Mark
© 2014 Mary Ellen Mark

Photographer Mary Ellen Mark captured the lasting impact of congenital rubella in adults who didn’t have the benefit of a vaccine. The backstory: “During the 1960s and early 1970s, rubella outbreaks in New York had a huge impact on hundreds of pregnant women. Jimmie Carey and Damali Ashman, the subjects of these portraits, are two of the people who were born with congenital rubella syndrome, or CRS. Today, they live in a group home in the New York City area. Mary Ellen’s photographs show their challenges, their independence, and the loving, lifelong care provided by family.”

Sculptor Mauro Perucchetti: Don’t Be Afraid …

© 2014 Mauro Perucchetti
© 2014 Mauro Perucchetti

Vaccines as Love Serum, a resin sculpture by Mauro Perucchetti, blends two of the Italian sculptor’s most well-known works: Jelly Baby Family, which embodies family unity and multiculturalism, and Love Serum, that could “inoculate the whole world.” The artist’s vision: “Mauro hopes the toy-like appearance of his work will help bring a smile to children, and eliminate fear of syringes and needles, while also eliminating the skepticism some parents have about vaccines.”

German Painter Thomas Ganter: The “Everywoman” in Healthcare

© 2014 Thomas Ganter
© 2014 Thomas Ganter

Exquisitely detailed, this is not a photograph but a precisely rendered, near life-sized painting. “The Unknown Health Worker” by Thomas Ganter introduces the concept of “everywoman” in health. Its genesis: “The portrait is inspired by a photograph of a health worker in eastern Nepal, who was in the midst of climbing up and down steep hillsides in the Himalayas to reach all children with measles, rubella and polio vaccines. She carries the vaccines in the cold box slung on her shoulder.”

Collaborators Martha Rosler and Josh Neufeld: Jonas Salk’s Journey

© 2014 Martha Rosler and Josh Neufeld, 2015
© 2014 Martha Rosler and Josh Neufeld, 2015

A graphic depiction of the personal journey of Dr. Jonas Salk, who developed the inactivated polio vaccine, artists Martha Rosler and Josh Neufeld titled their work “Gift to the World.” The context: “When his vaccine was deemed a success in 1955, Salk famously said that it belonged to the people. ‘There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?’”

If you are attending TEDMED 2015, please visit The Art of Saving a Life and share your thoughts and reactions with other Delegates and on social media using the hashtag #TEDMED. The entire exhibit can be seen online, as well (, where our excerpted artists’ quotes appear in their entirety.


In Memoriam – Mary Ellen Mark
March 20, 1940 – May 25, 2015

Mary Ellen Mark achieved worldwide visibility through her numerous books, exhibitions and editorial magazine work. She is recognized as one of the most respected and influential photographers of her time. Her portrayals of Mother Teresa, Indian circuses, and brothels in Bombay were the product of many years of work in India.

A photo essay on runaway children in Seattle, Washington became the basis of the academy award nominated film STREETWISE, directed and photographed by her husband, Martin Bell. In 2014, she was given the Lifetime Achievement in Photography Award from George Eastman House.

Breaking Through to Create a Healthier World

TEDMED PartnersAs much of our community knows by now, TEDMED 2015 focuses on the powerful theme of “breaking through” – meaning not just once-in-a-lifetime “aha!” moments, but also critical everyday adventures … the steady, step-by-step progress that enables all of us to discover new knowledge, embrace new ideas and technologies, and ultimately create a healthier world.

To see inspiring examples of who is “breaking through” to new levels of innovation, passion and commitment in health and medicine, look no further than TEDMED’s Partners. Each of these 18 globally recognized leadership organizations is instrumental in helping TEDMED practice the art and science of breaking through:

For these game-changing organizations, “breaking through” to a healthier world is central to their mission, a daily priority that is pursued with great urgency. Each supports TEDMED with time, talent, resources – and, above all – thought leadership. Our Partners help make our annual gathering a highly charged, cutting-edge event that can provoke and inspire all of us to new heights of insight and action.

But don’t take our word for it! Savor the words and ideas that our Partners contributed to express their own style of “breaking through”…

We are #breakingthrough by showing how physicians and health teams can partner with patients to build #AHealthierNation. (American Medical Association; @AmerMedicalAssn)

With leaders like you, @RWJF is #breakingthrough barriers between doctors’ offices and where we live, learn, work, and play. (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; @RWJF)

We are #breakingthrough to find the best science and technology to solve the greatest unmet needs of our time. (Johnson & Johnson Innovation; @JNJInnovation)

We are #breakingthrough complex health problems: promoting discovery, training leaders, transforming technologies. (Stanford Medicine; @StanfordMed)

We are #breakingthrough barriers to health so all people, in all places, in all aspects and stages of life, can live fully. #lifetothefullest (Abbott; @AbbottGlobal)

We are #breakingthrough barriers to vaccination, helping more kids get protected against killer diseases. (GlaxoSmithKline; @GSK)

We are #breakingthrough to better health experiences by connecting people, place and tech. (Steelcase Health; @SteelcaseHealth)

We are #breakingthrough by inspiring and engaging students in scientific exploration to become the next generation of innovators. (AbbVie; @abbvie)

We are #breakingthrough to create a healthier world by leveraging the extraordinary power of exponential technologies. (Novartis; @Novartis)

We are #breakingthrough to disrupt aging with @tedmed and @aarpinnovation. (AARP; @AARP)

We are working with hospitals and medical groups to find new ways of #breakingthrough silos that limit access to high-quality, affordable healthcare. (Blue Shield of California; @BlueShieldCA)

We are #breakingthrough barriers, developing software platforms for the future of synthetic biology and nanotechnology. (Autodesk; @autodesk)

We are #breakingthrough convention to engage doctors, patients, and brands in active conversations about healthier outcomes. (TBWA/World Health; @TBWAWorldHealth)

We are #breakingthrough status quo thinking to encourage fresh, alternative approaches to business and healthcare challenges. (Pfizer; @pfizer)

We are #breakingthrough barriers to access and care through awareness, resources and support as diverse as our patient populations. (Baxalta; @baxalta)

@BrighamWomens is #breakingthrough silos that divide physicians and researchers to translate research to advance patient care. (Brigham and Women’s Hospital; @BrighamWomens)

We are #breakingthrough to partner with startups to accelerate growth and commercialize innovative ideas. (GE Ventures; @GE_Ventures)

We are #breakingthrough old approaches to health communications with new ways to help people make more confident choices. (Digitas Health LifeBrands; @Digitas_Health)

TEDMED expresses its heartfelt gratitude and unending admiration for these outstanding organizations. Their example inspires us on a daily basis to pursue the quest for “breaking through.”

With their invaluable assistance, TEDMED will continue to provide our community with the best possible platform for multi-disciplinary dialogue, storytelling, imagination, inspiration and education!

Countering The Myth of the Lone Hero: Making Health a Shared Value

by Dr. Alonzo L. Plough
Vice President, Research-Evaluation-Learning, and Chief Science Officer
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Culture of HealthAmericans love the idea of the lone hero: the brilliant entrepreneur whose idea – generated in isolation – makes him a billionaire, the charismatic social change leader who transformed society through his perseverance and deft oratory skills. It’s the kind of myth that makes for a good movie and gives us hope that we too have the power to change the world. But it’s a myth nevertheless.

In the real world if you want to achieve something big – if you want to make a significant breakthrough – you need people on your side that will support you to forge a path and work with you to dismantle obstacles along the way. Steve Jobs needed Steve Wozniak. Martin Luther King Jr. needed Bayard Rustin. And they all needed countless others, most of whose names we’ll never know.

Last year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – working together with our partners across the country – developed a bold new vision. It’s a vision of a future where a Culture of Health has taken a firm hold and where everyone in our diverse society has the realistic hope and ample opportunities to live a healthy life. Period.

We spend $3 trillion a year on health care in this country – nearly 18 percent of our GDP, the highest percentage in the world. But all that spending is not buying us better health as a society. Compared to other high-income countries, Americans today live shorter, sicker lives. Over one-third of American children are overweight or obese, meaning they have a real chance of becoming the first generation to live sicker and die younger than their parents. Some of those kids – too many – don’t feel safe doing something as simple and as healthy as walking to school. Nearly one-fifth of all Americans live in neighborhoods with high rates of crime and pollution, inadequate housing, and limited access to nutritious food and job opportunities.

To translate the big vision of a Culture of Health into measurable outcomes and to catalyze action, my colleagues and I worked with the RAND Corporation to develop a Culture of Health Action Framework. This Framework – refined with input from thousands of stakeholders – provides entry points for a social movement that reflects the goals and values of our diverse country.

A single burning question drove all of us who worked on the Framework: “What is holding us back?” What became abundantly clear is that this country is not addressing the social, economic, physical, and environmental factors of health and wellbeing. For too long we have attempted to improve health by focusing and spending too much on health care. And for too long too many have looked solely to those who work in health care to generate the solutions that impact every one of our lives.

That just won’t get us where we need to go.

We’re confident that the surest path to a Culture of Health is to make it clear that we all need to be in this together. That health must be a shared value that guides all of our public and private decision-making. In a Culture of Health, health care professionals work as partners with their patients, and care is as much about promoting health as treating illness. Business leaders know that employee and community wellbeing boosts the bottom line. Everyone recognizes that things like where we live, how we work, the safety of our surroundings, and the strength and resilience of our families and communities dictates whether we have the ability to pursue health. People all across America – supported by government and private industry – make healthier choices and together foster more equitable communities that make those individual healthy choices possible and plausible.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is at TEDMED because we know you get it. You are leaders and collaborators and pioneers who push boundaries. You’re the people who are unafraid of big ideas that break through the status quo. We need you to lead the way to build that healthy reality.

How will you encourage more of us to see how our health affects others – and vice versa? How will you help more people speak up about the need for our public institutions and private companies and organizations to prioritize health? How will we bring new partners to the table that did not even know a seat and a role was waiting for them? How can we all help each other feel like each of us has a stake in this Culture of Health?

The vision for a Culture of Health does not belong to any one group or person. A lone hero will not get us to where we need to be. We all will do it together.

Before you head to TEDMED, take a look at the Action Framework. We’re building a dynamic online public dialogue that will culminate during the event, Nov. 18-20. For those of you joining us in Palm Springs, we hope you’ll tell us what you think in person. Most importantly, decide – and then tell the world – how you will be a part of building a Culture of Health.

It’s time to make this happen.