I wanted to share the story regarding why I started a diabetes prevention program delivered via telehealth called Fruit Street instead of going to medical school.

The year after I graduated from high school, I was certain that I wanted to become a physician. I started volunteering in my local emergency room and really enjoyed interacting with patients. While I was volunteering, I simultaneously took a nutrition epidemiology course online through the Harvard Extension School. The course was taught by a Harvard School of Public Health professor, Karen Michaels.

Because of the fact I was pursuing both of these experiences at the same time, I realized that many of the patients coming into the emergency room had preventable chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. I learned through my nutrition epidemiology course that these were conditions caused by diet and lifestyle.

One summer day while I was working in the emergency room, I heard the ambulance radio in to the nursing station. They said that an obese man was coming into the emergency room with cardiac arrest. A nurse told me that I could stand in the trauma bay to witness the medical intervention they would attempt to deliver to save this man’s life.

I saw the ambulances come into the entrance of the emergency room.

The paramedics actually dropped this obese man as they attempted to transfer him from the ambulance to the hospital stretcher. Finally, they started wheeling him towards the trauma bay on the hospital stretcher. The paramedic was on top of the stretcher and the man with one knee on the left side of his abdomen and one on the right while he administered CPR. Other nurses pushed the stretcher towards the trauma bay while CPR was being administered.

The man made it to the trauma bay and I stood in the corner of the room with a dozen doctors and nurses trying to save him. It was clear that the man was here because of his obesity. They ultimately had to attempt to shock his heart and bring him back to life, but unfortunately his time of death was ultimately declared. It was 1:17PM.

I left the room realizing this was a life changing experience. But then something unexpected happened about ten minutes later. Some nurses asked me to assist them with bringing his body to the morgue which was already in a gray zippered bag. I was only 18 at the time. I agreed to help. I figured that if I was going to go to medical school that I had to be comfortable with this situation.

We wheeled his body down to the morgue and it took three of us to lift this severely obese man into a container in the morgue. I directly felt how heavy he was and realized the impact obesity had on him.

It was at this point that I became motivated to prevent what happened that day to prevent that from ever happening again. I knew that our community could have done something to prevent his death through diet and lifestyle.

I learned about Dr. Dean Ornish and his heart disease reversal as well as the national diabetes prevention program. I realized that there were evidenced based programs that could help people reduce their risk of death through diet and lifestyle improvements.

While I was working in the emergency room, I was also working for an education non-profit that delivered free online tutoring through video conferencing to k-12 students. I started to wonder if we could deliver diet and lifestyle interventions through video conferencing and telehealth.

Ultimately that led me to starting Fruit Street which is a telehealth provider of the CDCs diabetes prevention program. It incorporates 26 classes with a dietitian and group of other participants over the course of a year. We issue them a wireless scale, fitbit, and they can take photos of their food in the fruit street mobile application.

When I worked in the emergency room that day, I knew that I wanted to prevent that from happening in millions of people. When that father died that day, he lost his life to obesity, but he also left behind family members. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in public health that day to focus on preventing chronic diseases and not just treating them. I wanted to save a million dads, moms, husbands, wives, grandfathers and grandmothers.

Today I can say that my company has proudly enrolled over 20,000 people into the CDCs diabetes prevention program. We expect to enroll another 25,000 people or more in the next 12 months.

I’m 29 now. If I became a physician, I’m sure I would work until I am 80. That means I have 51 years to go as a public health entrepreneur. If we keep enrolling 20,000 patients per year into our diabetes prevention program, we will have enrolled more than 1 million patients and save thousands of lives through the prevention of diabetes over the next 50 years. And that will be one of lasting legacies as an entrepreneur.

I hope this story motivates other people to work in the field of public health. Patients entrusting you to help prevent disease is a great honor and privilege. Maybe it will be the greatest of your life.

This article is dedicated to that man.

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Laurence Girard

Laurence Girard

CEO & Founder at Fruit Street Health