How did the creators of GORE-TEX® products—worn by outdoor enthusiasts and people with active lifestyles all over the world—invent material to patch human hearts?
Imagine a job where you can apply your technical know-how to create a new product that changes and saves the lives of others.
For people with a serious heart problem known as an atrial septal defect, or "hole in the heart," open heart surgery was once the only treatment. The surgeon makes an incision in the chest to expose the heart; a heart-lung bypass machine pumps blood while the heart is stopped and the defect is patched. Many patients with this condition are infants and small children, for whom this surgery poses an even greater risk.
A dedicated team of Gore associates—including Hannah and Sarah—developed a minimally invasive device that physicians implant through a cardiac catheter to permanently close the hole without major surgery. Driven by Gore’s core values of integrity, innovation, and quality, the team spent years perfecting the device before taking it to market. Patients treated this way experience much less pain, recover much more easily and quickly, and have less scarring.
Since then, the GORE HELEX Septal Occluder has changed the way doctors treat patients with this heart defect and has helped thousands of patients throughout the world—more than half of them infants and children—lead normal, healthy lives. And the team's experience with the Septal Occluder product changed their lives, too. Here are their stories.
Hannah joined Gore after working for several years selling anesthesia products and was involved in the launch of the GORE HELEX Septal Occluder. She is now a sales leader on Gore's stroke and cardiac interventions team.
"The best thing about working for Gore," says Hannah, "is that we are totally patient-focused." All of Gore's products—not just our medical products—must adhere to high standards, because their quality impacts our reputation. One of our core values is "fitness for use," which means we make a commitment to every customer that our products do what we say they will do, and we stand behind that promise.
Says Hannah, "I think we're very fortunate to have a company culture that's based on fitness for use rather than on getting widgets out the door as fast as we can to make money. When we launched the GORE HELEX Septal Occluder, we were focused on getting this product, which was the best and safest product, to market in the best way possible for the patients."
Hannah recalls, "I remember one of our associates telling us the story of a doctor in Chicago with a four-year-old patient who'd had the GORE HELEX implanted via catheter to patch her heart. Her parents brought her back after the procedure to make sure that the device was still in place and that everything looked okay. They were really worried because their daughter was no longer napping. The doctor told them that everything looked great, and the fact that she wasn't napping was a good thing. It meant she was getting enough oxygen and that she didn’t need to take naps anymore." She adds, "Even though we are accountable for hitting our sales forecast, it's critical, especially in the case of products that are used to treat small children, that we follow our values for quality and safety by supporting the procedures and education we provide physicians with regard to our device."
As a sales associate, says Hannah, "My mission is to sell product, obviously, because that's my first commitment, but on top of that, it's to help patients, it's to help physicians, it's to help Gore associates, to really help people grow and develop. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that."
"Gore is a great fit for me," says Hannah, "because you need to be intrinsically motivated to succeed here. You need to have your own sense of commitment and responsibility; having passion and enthusiasm are critical. Because if you have that, you're going to succeed regardless of what commitment you're in—outside of your technical abilities or past experiences. To me, that passion, enthusiasm, and commitment are critical to success for folks coming to Gore."
Hannah believes that joining Gore has changed her life. "I've grown so much," relates Hannah, "since I joined Gore as that single person who was 26 years old who didn't really know where she wanted to go with her career. I moved into roles that have really pushed me and tested me, and as a result, I feel a lot more confident. I feel like Gore is not just a job; that it's more of a lifestyle and a huge part of my life. So, even though I have three children at home and a husband now, it still brings me a lot of enjoyment to go to work."
With a chemistry degree and an MBA, Sarah has previously worked as a research scientist as well as in business roles for biotech firms. Sarah joined Gore as a business coordinator for the team developing the GORE HELEX Septal Occluder and is now a leader of another business unit.
"It was really exciting to join Gore," Sarah says. "I found that the organization and the culture were similar to what I'd experienced in a small startup where there wasn’t a strong hierarchy and people had opportunities to perform to their highest ability. The culture at Gore also promotes an environment of cooperation, so the company is full of people that want to do the right thing and want to work well together."
From a product perspective, according to Sarah, "it’s a pretty amazing story. There’s a lot of integrity involved in the product development process at Gore, and I was very attracted to the company from that perspective. The fact that Gore takes a long-term view in developing products based on quality is really important; quality and reliability are the most important things rather than getting products on the market quickly. Working in an organization that puts quality, reliability, safety, and efficacy first is extremely invigorating and makes me feel proud to be part of that process."
Sarah emphasizes that Gore's product development process includes forming and maintaining relationships with key customers—in this case, cardiovascular surgeons. "I’m not certain the GORE HELEX Septal Occluder would have been developed as robustly at another company. The relationships that we have with the physicians relative to the GORE HELEX are very, very strong. I’m not sure that at another company the right amount of importance would have been put on developing the product to the extent that we have, and then developing those physician relationships well. I think the underlying factor there is that long-term view."
Says Sarah, "Gore is a fantastic place to work. The people are very cooperative and helpful, and the products that we develop are based on amazing technology and robust market opportunities. Every day you go to work and you’re engaged in the work at hand, as are the people around you. The products that we’re developing have some competition out there, but the products that Gore offers are far superior. The excitement of knowing that we’re going to introduce those products to the clinic and ultimately to the marketplace keeps me going."
"The culture is alive and well at Gore," adds Sarah, "and it’s a unique place to work that offers a lot of opportunity."