A Career-Defining Diagnosis
Roche's Jay Graves doesn't just live with diabetes, he works with it. This is his story.
Jay Graves’ family never talked about diabetes.
This may not sound strange, after all, how many families regularly discuss chronic, life-altering health conditions? But Jay’s family should have been different – his grandmother had died from complications of the disease and his father and uncle were already experiencing severe symptoms.
“When I started showing signs of diabetes I was a pretty big athlete. I was in the military, I was running marathons; I was in perfect shape,” he says. “It was a busy time, in 2003-4, as I was travelling a lot between the U.S. and Jordan, preparing for the Iraqi Freedom operations. I was 30 years old.”
When he finally made it home, he realized his Dad was struggling. “He just wasn’t looking well. My Mom finally admitted that he had come down with type 2 diabetes and that he was losing his eyesight, and also had numbness in the feet and all that.
“My family had very limited resources, so they relied on community health support who didn’t know much about diabetes and they got some bad advice. I didn't know it was bad advice at the time because I knew nothing about diabetes other than that family members had died of it. I thought it was a death sentence – first for my Dad and then, ultimately, for me.”
The desire to help his father and other family members drove Jay. “When I was getting out of the military, a lot of pharmaceutical companies were interested in hiring former military officers, so I sought out companies that worked in the diabetes space and I got lucky. I learned a lot about the disease state and how to manage it well enough to live a normal life.
“I was able to start helping my Dad to the point where he was able to get on the right medications and test his blood sugar so the problems started to slow. My Dad has about 20 percent of his vision remaining, and I am certain he would have gone blind years ago had he not started to take precautions.”
The next step was to help others in the same position. “I became really passionate when I started seeing the sheer size of this epidemic. My goal, my personal mantra, was that I didn’t want this to happen to anybody else. Ever. As a rep, I tried to educate as many health care providers as possible, even if they were tough conversations.”
This goal continued to motivate him as he moved into a leadership role; Jay is now Vice-President of Sales at Roche Diabetes Care in the US. “One of the things that I tell people is that, yes, we're here to do business and we're going to hit our numbers, but we're also going to save lives. I tell my colleagues my own story and I tell them that every day they have the power to save a lot more Jays out there.”
He encourages colleagues to spend as much time with patients as possible. “We bring patients in, particularly juvenile patients with diabetes, because we want to hear directly from them what is happening in their lives and what they need help with. However, it’s also about emotions; when you see five-year-olds running around with an insulin pump, how can you not have empathy? That empathy then turns into drive to continue to innovate and continue to be strong on development.”
Roche Diabetes Care also participates at a local diabetes summer camp near its headquarters in Indianapolis. “Typically, a large contingent of people from headquarters go along in some capacity – they don’t have to take vacation time or anything like that. It’s really important that people who don’t have the daily contact with patients that we have in the field keep them front and center. By spending time with patients, they understand their needs better, then they bring those insights back in to help us come up with new solutions.”
The impact of pharmaceutical company’s medicines on the lives of diabetes patients has been remarkable but there is more the industry can do to help ensure all patients gain access to the best care, says Jay.
“Pharma does a great job of innovating and bringing solutions to the market, but there are too many negative connotations around pharma. I was a guest lecturer at a university recently and ended up talking to people afterwards – they were saying, ‘You are the reason why I can’t afford drugs, why my Mom can’t afford her drugs’. In the end, I had to draw the entire health system out for them and point out where the cost drivers were and, thankfully, they all walked out better educated.
“But people should not have to make the decision between buying a bottle of generic medicine or filling their car with gas, because they’re always going to fill their car – we’ve all got to get to work. The system is too convoluted here in the US but if the entire healthcare system got together – pharma, insurers, PBMs, retailers, everybody in the influence chain – and partnered, then their combined advocacy would be a really powerful voice for the patient.”
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