When a large conservative medical device company started something called the “Race Against Pain,” a prominent Denver-area anesthesiologist and pain medicine specialist was thrilled.
“Here was a big company, Advanced Bionics, that was trying to do something to educate people about chronic pain, a malady that affects over 100 million people,” said Daniel Bennett, MD, DABPM. “No one had ever done anything like this before. It was great.”
The star of the Race Against Pain was Mike Roman of St. Louis, who had his leg amputated when it became infected following knee surgery. He suffered chronic pain from Phantom Limb Pain for over ten years, fighting depression and addiction to painkillers as the pain continued to increase.
Roman eventually had a spinal cord stimulator (a device that ‘tricks’ the nervous system into ‘turning off’ pain) implanted and his pain became manageable. The charismatic former operating room technician began to think of life as “something to live again.”
And Roman had a crazy dream. He wanted to be a race car driver and race in the Indy 500.
So when Advanced Bionics’ (now Boston Scientific) marketing director, Doug Lynch, heard about it, he said, “Why not?” His team created the Race Against Pain, which featured Roman and his exploits in road races around the country. In each spot, Roman would talk with doctors and patients about his story.
“Our marketing objective was to create awareness about chronic pain, which is often misdiagnosed, and educate people about the importance of seeing a pain specialist,” said Lynch. “Mike seemed to be the perfect vessel.”
And his imperfections made him darn near perfect.
“He wasn’t afraid to share with people how dark his journey had been, and people responded to him,” said Geoff Sims, who worked with Lynch during those years. “Chronic pain patients often suffer horribly and many of them and many pain physicians responded to Mike’s honesty and passion.
The patients and doctors not only responded to him, they loved him.
“Being around Mike when he was around patients was inspirational to all of us. You could see people respond to him and react in a way that said ‘if he can come out of this, so can I,'” said Jim Hagen, a neurophysiologist who works with Dr. Bennett in Colorado.
For a company like Boston Scientific, this was uncertain ground. Medical device companies are conservative by nature and the idea of having a barnstorming race car driver barreling around turns in a car with the company name on it was nothing any of them had considered.
“It’s fair to say that the project had to be sold and re-sold within the company. But during that time Boston Scientific’s market share of spinal cord stimulation reached the highest it had ever been, so something was working,” said Lynch, who left the company three years ago.
Since then, Boston Scientific has moved on to more traditional marketing, Roman’s role became less and less and, interestingly, the company’s market share decreased. For Dan Bennett and other leaders in pain medicine, the time for more aggressive education about chronic pain is an ongoing concern.
“Companies whose products are used in the treatment of chronic pain must do more to educate people who live with pain. What Boston Scientific started was just that, a start,” says Bennett. “So much more needs to be done to educate people who live with chronic pain, and the health care providers who treat them. There are people like Mike Roman out there who have interesting and compelling stories to tell that will inspire their fellow patients and the healthcare professionals who treat them.”
Dr. Bennett is right. There are 116 million people out there suffering from chronic pain.
“There may not be anyone quite like Mike Roman,” added Lynch, “but Dan Bennett is right. Chronic pain is underreported and undertreated, and telling those stories is crucial to advancing the treatment of pain.”
It won’t be Mike Roman, who died in March from a sudden and virulent bout with cancer. He was only 45.
“He was the type of guy that once you met him, you were forever better as a person. He exuded a zest for life, and strived to better the lives of everyone he touched. His passion to better the lives of people in pain was nothing more than an extension of the fundamentally good man that he was,” said Dr. Bennett. Yes, he will be missed.
Editor’s Note: A memorial fund has been established to help the Roman family with medical costs from Mike’s final race against pain. Please send all donations to:
Susan L. Roman Memorial for Michael G. Roman
Eagle Bank & Trust Company
1052 South Kirkwood Rd.
Kirkwood, MO 63122