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CIO Unplugged 6/29/11

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Why We Need Transformational Leadership

The labor and delivery room filled quickly with physicians and nurses. The walls turned inside out, revealing sterile equipment. The transfiguration from birthing suite to operating theatre was complete. I figured this was not a good sign.

Despite numerous inducements, my wife’s body refused to give up the gift inside. I went from active coach and participant to frightened bystander. Moved aside, I worked my way behind my wife, out of the path of clinicians and equipment, yet close enough to stroke her hair, hold her head in my hand, and whisper prayers in her ear.

While I wasn’t familiar with all the technology, I knew to keep an eye on the fetal heart monitor. Fluctuating wildly, the bottom kept falling out until the heart rate eventually registered as zero — and stayed there.

Seconds passed like minutes, minutes like hours. After cutting, vacuuming, forceps, and physical manipulation, our baby appeared. “We’ve got a floppy,” the doctor announced. He handed the bundle over to his partner, who whisked our child to a nearby table for resuscitation.

Nightmarish thoughts invaded my mind. Instead of returning home and rejoicing over a new life, would I be planning a funeral? Picking out a tiny casket? Mourning? Wondering if it would be worth trying again? While clinicians huddled around our daughter, we changed her name from Kirsten to Talitha.

Seven forever minutes later, a nurse displayed our child, swaddled in a blanket and breathing on her own. “Here’s your daughter,” she said, before they took her down the hall.

Talitha is an Aramaic word used by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. A father chased after Jesus and pleaded for Him to heal his recently deceased daughter. Impressed by the man’s faith, Jesus went to his house. Upon seeing the lifeless body, He commanded “Talitha Kuom” (translated “young woman, arise!”). The girl awakened. Ours did also. Miracles still happen.

Talitha slept in isolation in the newborn intensive care nursery. We could look at her, but not touch. Strep B had caused the trauma, but she was also fighting pneumonia and a hole in her stomach. Physicians forecasted long-term physical and mental damage.

In our shocked state, we reviewed options with the clinical team. We signed releases, willing to assume any risk that might help Talitha survive. Our church pastors loved on us, praying for wisdom and healing. We gave thanks for the hospital and dedicated clinicians.

The biggest decision lay ahead. Should we undertake a risky “flight for life” transfer from our hometown hospital Level 3 NICU to a Level 1 NICU 90 minutes away? Adding complexity, Julie was not physically well after the trauma, and I did not want to separate her from Talitha. The receiving hospital specialists said they could consult remotely if there was an automated way to collaborate. But this was the early 90s.

I had been serving as the physician relations coordinator for this hospital. A year prior, I had been given an additional responsibility related to IT. The IT staff was struggling with physician adoption of a clinical system application module that allowed them to dial in (on a 2,400 baud modem) and have real-time access to clinical data. Because of my track record in working with physicians, I took the job of evangelizing this tool to the medical staff. We went from 5% to 90% adoption in one year.

What if?

What if we gave the consulting physicians direct access to the clinical record and they could treat my daughter from afar? Two hours later, they had access. Care coordination and collaboration began. This defining moment made my calling and career crystal clear. I knew I was to combine my leadership talents with my technical skills and apply them to healthcare information technology.

Eight long days later, Talitha was released, albeit on oxygen. The strep was treated, her pneumonia was resolved, and her stomach had healed itself. No physical impairment. Today, because of her high IQ, no one could ever know of the fight Talitha endured to be a part of our family. (Well, perhaps with the exception of her “Goth” period around age 14. LOL.)

And Julie? She, too had a miraculous recovery. The quarter-sized hole connecting her uterus and bladder (caused by a 9.5 pound baby) closed without surgical intervention.

This story is one example that illustrates the power of technology when it’s paired with leadership and harnessed to share clinical data. As we mash up transformational leadership with emerging technology, we will hear many more stories like Talitha’s that inspire us to do greater things.

This fall, we’ll celebrate our beautiful daughter’s 18th birthday. She is the reason I serve in healthcare information technology. I can’t imagine having any vocation outside of healthcare. I am a direct beneficiary, and it changed me forever.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.