Sunday, February 21, 2010

Biography 2 (

It's a long way across 40 years from high school to the Netherlands, parallel tracks of raising a family, indulging hobbies, developing a career. The visuals (photos, links, details) can all be found from my homepage at drhamptn (dot) com, but here are a few highlights.

I went to college after graduating high school, majoring in science and math, minoring in the campus radio station and my fraternity. Sometimes I should have stayed a professional undergrad: I enjoyed the classes, activities, social whirl, and resources. I loved the cultural contrasts of the south, absorbing bluegrass music and southern cooking. Junior year, I discovered my life's passion for medical devices when a professor showed me his recording equipment. I wasn't the sort to memorize huge medical texts to become a doctor, but really enjoyed teaching computers to understand physiologic data.

So, I returned to Chicago for grad school at Northwestern, spending six years getting my MS and PhD. I lived on the north side of Chicago, learned to love city living, jazz, mopeds, and deep-dish pizza. My thesis characterized the way that the brain controls eye movements to give us a clear perception of the world around us: interesting, but not fascinating enough to continue in academics. I met my wife midway through school, and we married the year before I graduated: we moved to a cozy apartment along Howard Street enjoying time with friends and planning a future.

My first job turned out to be in eastern Washington state with a family-owned startup making neurologic devices. It was a perfect job: everyone got to do a bit of everything in a 50-person group, and I found a niche writing interpretive software, training physicians, and managing clinical studies. The Tri-Cities was isolated and rural, but the workplace was close and friendly and we enjoyed the apartment overlooking the river, the trips across the mountains to the Pacific coast, and having a bit of money to build with. I got to work with some inspiring groups developing psychiatric diagnostics, expert systems for operative monitoring, and magnetic stimulators for tickling brain centers. The brothers who owned the company taught me many of the skills and values that I still carry in life today, and gave me a great perspective on organizing and growing a small business.

In 1987 we were expecting our first child, and felt like it was time to move back to a city. A job opened near Seattle, and we moved across the mountains to buy a house and settle in to raise a family. The company made cardiac resuscitation equipment, but was trying to branch out to new diagnostic fields and hired me to do the signal processing work. As with so many experiences, the project succeeded, but the program was cancelled.

I moved to more general positions within the research group, leading programs to interpret physiologic signals and to identify signs of disease. We developed the company's first data management / medical informatics products, and finally took an aggressive approach to developing a comprehensive suite of products for managing resuscitative emergencies: cardiac arrest, stroke, trauma, and respiratory arrest. We had a very talented and cohesive group of people, and enjoyed a good period of growth and achievement.

Our second child arrived two years after the first, and we both were very active in their school through an alternative program where parents participate in classroom enrichment. I was responsible for recruiting local scientists, artists, and professionals to speak and to demonstrate in the classroom. We did a lot of family travel to visit relatives and to explore the countryside on extended drives through the US and Canada. We took up sailing as the kids grew, and it was a fun thing for us all to learn together and enjoy as part of a sailing club. The Seattle / BC area is a wonderful area to explore, with lakes and islands, the Sound and the coast.

Life turned more challenging for all of us at the millennium. The kids became teenagers, and we had a rocky period where my son explored all of the deadly sins in three-month increments. The company decided to stop investing in research, since they had enough to last. The technology transfer projects that replaced research were constantly cancelled and re-prioritized; people started to drift off from the group to find other jobs. Life felt like a struggle on every front.

Our son went off to college, and it felt like time for me to take a break as well. I enrolled in a graduate program in Business / Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge (UK), moving to England to attend classes. It was a wonderful experience: I was a generation older than the other students (they called me the Chairman), but it taught me a lot about diversity and management, medicine and business. It was the best thing I could have done. I even started a small business with several of the students, developing a unique coating for cardiovascular instruments.

My family couldn't come along, and my son unfortunately dropped out of college and came home to stay within a year, which caused unanticipated stress back in the US.

On graduation, I accepted an expatriate position with a Netherlands division of our corporation, joining the general management staff and taking responsibility for creating a new 'business within the business' around an implanted diagnostic device that could detect acute life-threatening events and summon help. Living and working with the Dutch has been great: I've learned the language, adapted to the life, and explored large chunks of Europe. Unfortunately, the kids were at an age where they didn't want to relocate, and we ended up living apart as a family again.

My son took two years before he decided to join the Air Force, reporting for basic training a few weeks ago on a six year commitment. We have misgivings (we are at war), but he is doing well and may have found a home. My daughter graduated high school last month and starts college next week: she'll do great. Both were able to come over to Europe on extended visits where we could travel and catch up on life. So I feel like everyone is finally launched into their lives.

The corporation has announced that they are moving responsibility for our product back to the US, and are closing our facility here. It's created some hard times as we try to work through the challenges of finalizing a severance package and transferring the projects, and has once again left me looking for my next job.

I have found a home in Europe after 3 year away and don't want to return to the US: I'm working to define an entrepreneurial / technological role where I can move innovation forward to new medical products and clinical markets. My wife and I are facing our 'empty nest' separated by 5000 miles, and so deciding where to make the next phase of our lives is also a key question. But I'm feeling happy and successful with life, optimistic about the future, and surrounded by possibilities. I'm ready for anything except retirement, and am filling every day with discovery.

'wishing you, too, all the best, Dave


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