It was amazing in its connections of patients, families and medical professionals. I'll never forget how large the crowd looked...it was 800, up from 500 in 1998. In the back of the ballroom 4 or 5 exhibitors had 8’x10’ tables and were able to answer questions for patients - that, too, was a first. When Conference was over, we invited 10 or 12 people from the 7 nations attending outside the U.S. to meet with PHA's board. At the time, there were the U.S., French and German PH associations. Shortly after that meeting, associations launched in the UK, Israel and Japan.
Now, I've returned from the 2012 International PH Conference, PHA's Tenth. My amazement continues... at the connections, the commitment, the exchange of knowledge and mostly, the spirit of hope. As I sort out all that I saw and continue to hear from others, here are a few brief thoughts to get started...
· This Orlando Conference we completed last Sunday had 1,511 registrants from 27 nations. There were more patients, there were more caregivers, there were more doctors, there were more nurses and there were more from industry than we ever hosted before.
· The Scientific Sessions we added to Conference in 2004 have continued to grow in attendance and quality. When I walked in the room on Thursday, I saw more medical professionals than the entire Conference a decade ago. The comments from physicians and researchers convinced me that Dr. Bull and his committee brought science on their chosen topic – The Genetics of Pulmonary Hypertension – at the highest level.
· Over the years, we have increasingly used video to tell our story. It was wonderful to see people’s reactions to our Conference opening on Friday where we showed our new History of PHA video… and when it was over, brought the spotlight down to the surviving founders (Pat Paton, Judy Simpson and Dorothy Olson) seated around the actual kitchen table where they met with Teresa Knazik in June 1991 to found what would become PHA. That film will now be available for PHA events and activities.
· At Friday’s dinner Dr. Greg Elliott told the medical history of pulmonary hypertension and how its evolving solutions came to be intertwined with PHA’s own history… a theme of interconnectedness that many spoke to throughout Conference.
· When people registered, they were given buttons with zebra stripes and began to see elements of Conference that reflected the theme. Dr. Lynn Brown explained what these meant on Friday when she described PHA’s new Early Diagnosis Campaign.
· It was wonderful to see so many of the children I met at the early Conferences now as young adults and many of the adults continuing to move forward with their lives. One of the striking sights for me was poking my head into the kids room and seeing more than 50 young children – patients, children of patients and children of medical professionals – working together on projects and creating their own friendships and communities.
· On Sunday, I was interviewed for a Pulmonary Vascular Research Institute (PVRI) publication by three doctors from Nepal, one from Greece and one from the U.K. and one from the U.S. Our conversations expanded to how we can better work together… a continuing value of Conference.
· Facebook postings about Conference seem to be everywhere from PHA's Facebook page to SouthAfrica to Latin America. The movement continues to expand.
· It’s good to know that PHA will continue to fulfill its value that meetings should have continuing value through this Conference. Virtually all of the content will begin appearing in PHA Classroom (content for patients and caregivers) and PHA Online University (content for medical professionals).
· In the end, Conference has always been about the people. This time was no different. Highlights for me included Colleen Brunetti in simple eloquence sharing the story of her journey with PH… 13-year-old Matt Moniz telling of climbing the nation’s and the world’s highest mountains to raise awareness and to honor his young friend, PH patient Ian Hess… Dr. Ray Benza relating his work and service to his family’s immigrant roots… and, of course, the conversations in the halls and exhibit areas with so many heroes. All made our theme, the power of one, very real for me.
There’s so much more to tell but it’s time for me to get back to work. I always talk about Conference as our slingshot, the coming together that propels us forward in expected and unexpected ways. It’s time again to pull the band and fulfill Conference’s promise.
I do have one (ok, maybe, three) important question though. What did you see? What moved you? What changed you?