How a Johnson & Johnson Employee's Health Scare Brought a Company Mission to Intercept Diseases to Life

When Cat Oyler discovered she'd been born with a heart condition that had gone undiagnosed, it hit home for her just how important her work helping to prevent and intercept disease really was.

JOHNSON & JOHNSON

Cat Oyler is Vice President, Strategy and External Innovation for Janssen Research & Development, LLC, Development, part of the Johnson & Johnson (No. 8 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list) family of companies.


On April 9, I will run the Rutgers Unite half marathon. Three days later, I will have heart surgery.

For years, despite working out almost daily—sometimes twice a day—I haven't been able to run faster than a 10-minute mile. No matter how long or hard I train, I have a difficult time breathing when I try to increase my pace. But every time I've seen a doctor about it, they've sent me home with a clean bill of health. So I came to believe that a 10-minute mile was just the best I could do.

Then one day this past January, I found myself struggling to breathe. It felt like a kettlebell was sitting on my chest, and when I tried to take a deep breath, it was like bands around my chest were preventing my lungs from expanding.

I went to the emergency room, where they did an ECG and an echocardiogram. Both came back abnormal.

The Lifelong Condition I Didn't Know I Had

I was pretty surprised about the results and thought: "Wow, this is not exactly how I planned to start 2017." Still, the doctors weren't very concerned, and sent me home. When I told my parents what had happened, they reminded me that I'd been born with a heart murmur, but that the doctors thought it had gone away.

A few days later, I was chatting with a colleague, Bruce Rosengard, M.D., Johnson & Johnson's Chief Medical Science and Technology Officer for Medical Devices. When I mentioned the abnormal cardiac results and my history of a heart murmur, Bruce thought there could be something serious going on.

He put me in touch with the Boston Adult Congenital Heart (BACH) service at Boston Children's Hospital, which is staffed by a group of doctors who specialize in adults with congenital heart defects. I had a cardiac MRI that revealed I was born with an Atrial Septal Defect (ASD), which is a hole between the left and right atria of the heart, and is, indeed, associated with heart murmurs. Although it is hard to hear, I still have that murmur, but the ASD had remained undetected.

Only about 2,000 children in the United States are born with the condition each year. In many children, the hole is small enough that it closes naturally. In other people, like me, the hole is larger and doesn't close, allowing blood to flow the wrong way in my heart.

Symptoms can include shortness of breath, fatigue and exercise intolerance. And I've had all of those. But they're pretty vague symptoms, so I didn't know anything was really wrong. So why didn't the ER docs catch it? It's tough to diagnose, especially in a noisy ER with a patient who is fit and active, like me.

Oyler crossing the finish line at the Run to Home Base charity run in Boston

Fortunately, the repair is relatively straightforward: An interventional cardiologist will thread a catheter through a vein in my leg up to my heart, then insert a nickel titanium device that looks a little bit like two wire mesh cymbals. The device will clamp around the edges of the hole, and, if all goes well, my own cells will grow over the device in time, resulting in a permanent repair. Amazingly, I'll only be in the hospital one night, and back at work a few days later.

Why We Need to Approach Healthcare Like We Do Car Care

Serendipitously, for the past year, I've led a team within Janssen Research & Development, part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies, that has been working to transform human health through preventing, intercepting and curing disease. We call this ambitious strategy creating a "World Without Disease."

One key insight we gained is that, in many ways, our cars have better healthcare than we do. If we imagine a future in which we monitor and prevent issues, we can begin to transform human health. In this future vision, just like in cars today, sensors will constantly monitor all aspects of our health, starting from birth. As soon as anything begins to deviate from our baseline state of health, we will get an alert—like a "check engine" light for our bodies—so we know it's time to see a healthcare provider.

If I had come embedded with a check engine light, it might have been on since I was born!

Once we have this early warning system in place, many diseases and some injuries can become avoidable. Simply by knowing who is at risk for a disease, we may be able to intervene earlier, preventing a disease before it even starts.

In the event a disease can't be prevented, early detection will allow doctors to intercept and treat diseases at their most curable stage. And perhaps through novel combinations of medications, surgery and other treatments, we may be able to cure even more advanced diseases. Through focusing on prevention, interception and cures, we can keep people healthy, or return them to health. Isn't that what we all want?

Discovering I've had an ASD my entire life—and that it's gone unnoticed until now—reinforces my belief in the importance of our World Without Disease approach. Johnson & Johnson is ideally placed to bring together consumer, medical device and pharmaceutical expertise to transform human health, but we can't do it alone.

It will take innovation, investment and the support of patient advocacy groups, payers, healthcare professionals, regulators and other industries. The entire healthcare ecosystem must collaborate to imagine and make this healthier future possible.

While we are working together to make that happen, I'm getting ready to run that half marathon. My doctor cleared me to participate, and Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" will absolutely be on my running playlist.

Once I heal, and once my check engine light has been turned off, I'm going to train for another half marathon. And you know what? I'm planning to run that one a whole lot faster.

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LifeScan, Inc. is a world leader in blood glucose monitoring and maker of the OneTouch® brand of products.

REUTERS

Originally Published by Johnson & Johnson.

Johnson & Johnson announced that it has accepted the binding offer from Platinum Equity, previously announced on March 16, 2018, to acquire its LifeScan business for approximately $2.1 billion. LifeScan, Inc. is a world leader in blood glucose monitoring and maker of the OneTouch® brand of products.

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2.5-day behavioral intervention was associated with statistically significant sustained improvements in quality of life and wellbeing

REUTERS

Originally Published by Johnson & Johnson.

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Originally Published by National Organization on Disability.

On November 1st, the National Organization on Disability held our Corporate Leadership Council Fall Luncheon and Roundtable. Hosted at Sony's New York offices, the event centered on the topic of mental health in the workplace.

Members of our Board of Directors and executives from nearly 40 companies held a candid conversation, heard from business leaders, and participated in an insightful Q&A where successful strategies were discussed to accommodate and support employees with mental illness in the workplace.

"Mental illness is the single biggest cause of disability worldwide," said Craig Kramer, a panelist at the event and Chair of Johnson & Johnson's Global Campaign on Mental Health. "One out of four people will have a clinically diagnosable mental illness at some point in their lives," he continued. Another 20 to 25% of the population will be caregivers to loved ones with a mental illness.

The costs are staggering. "In the coming decades, mental illness will account for more than half of the economic burden of all chronic diseases, more than cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases combined…. It's trillions of dollars," said Kramer.

From an employer's perspective, the need for a successful strategy to deal with mental illness in the workplace is clear. But what are the most effective ways to confront this challenge? Roundtable participants discussed a wide range of ideas and success stories aimed at de-stigmatizing mental health and incorporating the issue into wider conversations around talent, productivity, and inclusion.

6 KEY TAKEAWAYS ON MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE:

  1. Be empathetic. "The most important workplace practice [with respect to mental health] is empathy," said NOD President Carol Glazer. Empathy is critical for normalizing conversations about mental health, but also for maximizing productivity. "A feeling of psychological safety is important," said Lori Golden, a panelist and Abilities Strategy Leader for Ernst & Young; and this sense of safety requires the empathy of colleagues to flourish.
  2. Tell stories. "Nothing is more activating of empathy than for people to share their powerful stories," said Dr. Ronald Copeland, NOD Board member and Senior Vice President of National Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and Policy and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Kaiser Permanente. Copeland's organization partners with the renowned nonprofit, Story Corps, to capture the stories of Kaiser Permanente employees, and also provides a platform on the company intranet for employees to communicate in a safe space. Both Craig Kramer and Lori Golden also shared examples of how their companies provide opportunities to share their stories and "start the conversation, break the silence," as Kramer put it.
  3. Model from the top. Carol Glazer received a standing ovation at the luncheon for her account of her own experiences with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This type of executive-level modeling sends a powerful message that a company is committed to improving mental health for all employees. Lori Golden shared how EY had experienced great success with a program where top-level managers host office-specific events and share stories of mental illness or addiction that they are personally connected to – either about their colleagues or loved ones or, in a surprisingly high number of instances, about themselves. Senior leadership setting the example conveys that this is a forum in which employees can feel comfortable sharing.
  4. Communicate peer-to-peer. "We all know that there's greater trust of our own peers than there is of the organization," said Lori Golden. So to build trust, EY "took it to the grass roots," creating formal opportunities for employees to have conversations about mental health and asking other ERGs to co-sponsor these events. Craig Kramer also noted that Johnson & Johnson had simply folded mental health issues into their global disability ERGs, eventually building the world's second-largest mental health ERG by piggy-backing on existing infrastructure and leveraging existing connections.
  5. Be flexible. Accommodating [the fact that people live busy, complex lives] gets you better buy-in…and keeps production pretty high," suggested Dr. Copeland. A representative from one Council company concurred, explaining how their company has recently instituted a new policy of paid time off for caregivers on top of federally-funded leave. "Being in a culture in which we measure what you produce and not whether you show up in person all day, every day, and where if you can't be there, you negotiate how the deliverables will get done and in what time frame…is immensely helpful to people who themselves have mental illness issues or addiction or are caring for those who do and may need some flexibility," summarized Lori Golden.
  6. Build a trustworthy Employee Action Plan. Many employees do not access or even trust their organization's internal resources. According to Craig Kramer, the percentage of calls placed to most company Employee Action Plans (EAPs) regarding mental health is "in the low single digits," while "if you look at your drug spend, you'll find that around 50% is [related to] mental health." The people answering those calls must be trained in mental health issues, and employees also need to be assured that EAPs are truly confidential.

While revealing and accommodating mental illness remains a massive challenge in the workplace and beyond, a number of successful strategies are emerging for tackling this challenge – many of them pioneered by companies in NOD's Corporate Leadership Council.

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