Werner Forssmann was born in Germany in 1904. He was admitted to medical practice at the age of 25. He got a job as a cardiologist at a small hospital in Germany. It was from his early experiences in treating heart patients that he developed a medical procedure that has transformed medical care. But his pioneering innovation in medicine came at a great personal sacrifice.
Dr. Forssmann had an idea that a plastic tube could be used to examine the heart, identify damaged tissue, and help repair the heart. Today we call these catheters. The concept was not new and had been used by urologists, but the medical community felt that it would be life-threatening if it extended to the heart.
Dr. Forssmann persuaded a nurse to help him. When he told her that he intended to perform the test on himself, she objected. She asked that he use her as the test instead. That way he could do what was necessary if the test went bad. He agreed, or so she thought.
She was placed on an operating table and strapped down. She watched in horror as the doctor began to insert the tube in himself under a local anesthetic. When the tube made it to the heart, she was unstrapped, and she and the doctor went to radiology to see a picture of how well the trial had run. It had worked as planned.
When the results of the test were reported to the chief surgeon, he was furious at first because of the insanity of the test. He then allowed the doctor to use the procedure on a terminally ill cardiac patient. This was also a success.
When Dr. Forssmann published a paper on his medical breakthrough, his career began to nosedive. The established medical community was aghast at this brazen challenge to the treatment orthodoxy at the time. Dr. Forssmann was fired and for 30 years found it hard to practice medicine. He ended up practicing medicine in a small town as a urologist.
Then one day he was enjoying a beer after work, his wife contacted him to tell him that there was a reporter who wanted to talk with him. He refused. Later that evening, he had a call from Sweden telling him that he had won the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
The rest is history. Cardiac catheterization has become one of the most routine and important practices in treating heart disease. But it took a man who had the ultimate belief in himself to make it so.
Certainly, his belief in himself was at the extreme, but how many of us never realize our full potential because we lack a belief in ourselves? We lack confidence and are afraid to move beyond our comfort zone. We have developed an avoidance mindset when it comes to exploring new opportunities. We have placed self-inflicted barriers to reaching our full potential. Entertainers are not the only profession where talent agents are needed. Every one of us needs someone who can nudge us when we stop believing in ourselves and achieving the full use of our talent.
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“It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”- Sir Edmond Hillary (first climber to reach the peak of Mt. Everest)