"Mothers are the Necessity of Invention"
(This is a 100% paraphrase of Dean Kamen's speech at the 2006 Friends for Life Banquet. And when I mean paraphrase I mean very loosely. I have very limited sound retention, so almost none of this is quoted. Except for the title. He really did say that.)
Dean Kamen began his speech by declaring that there were a lot of myths about the beginnings of the insulin pump. Namely, that he had any intention of actually creating a system to help people live better lives with diabetes. The real reason the insulin pump was invented, he says, was mothers.
When Mr. Kamen was in high school in the mid-70s (I think '76, but I could be wrong), his older brother was in medical school at Yale University. Mr. Kamen's brother was working in a hospital where he was working with some very special patients: babies with cancer. Back then, doctors used chemotherapy pumps to treat patients, but the pumps they used on babies were the same ones they used on adults.
One day, Mr. Kamen's brother called up Mr. Kamen and asked him to create a baby-sized chemotherapy pump. Now, this pump was much bigger than the little pumps that we have today, but they were still much smaller than the pumps they were currently using for cancer babies. Mr. Kamen went back to the basement where he created all of the chemo pumps by hand.
The pumps worked very well and all was good.
Then one day, Mr. Kamen's brother called up Mr. Kamen again and told him that he had another special project. Mr. Kamen's brother said there was a group of doctors who wanted to use this pump for something else.
They wanted to use the pump for people with diabetes.
Mr. Kamen thought this was a silly idea. The pumps were huge (again, much bigger than even the big pumps that we have seen) and you had to wear them all the time, for the rest of your life.
"No one will want to wear this all the time," Mr. Kamen said.
Mr. Kamen's brother said this was for a very special group of people with diabetes, though.
It was for women who wanted to have babies.
As most of you know, it's very hard to for women with diabetes to have healthy babies. It's hard now, and it was almost impossible back then. Having tight control is very, very important and it wasn't at all easy to get that kind of tight control.
Mr. Kamen still thought this was kind of silly. He didn't think anyone would ever want to wear an insulin pump if they didn't have to and certainly not for as long as the women would have to wear it.
Mr. Kamen's brother said, "I don't think you understand. Women who want to have children would wear a bright pink refridgerator if it meant they could have a healthy baby."
So that was that. Mr. Kamen went back to his laboratory where he worked on creating a new pump that could dispense insulin so women could have healthy babies.
Mr. Kamen said that a lot of people think that "necessity is the mother of invention." But that's not true, he says.
"Mothers are the necessity of invention."
So if you have an insulin pump or love someone who wears one, go thank a mother.
(I heard this story- in the lengthier, much more detailed version, while standing next to Nicole Johnson Baker and her freaking cute, most adorable baby in the world, Ava. Needless to say, there were lots of tears.)