By Jan Gleason
Start with a large portion of compassion, add a generous scoop of interest in innovative business practices such as design thinking, serve with garnishes of luck and hope and you’ve got the recipe for Kevin Myer, the 2021 board chair of The Organ Donation and Transplantation Alliance.
Myer, whose day job is President and CEO of LifeGift, an organ procurement organization based in Houston that works with 240 hospitals and nine transplant centers in North, Southeast and Western Texas, says that while preparation is important to dealing with challenges, such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the biggest lesson he’s learned is to take care of his team. “Nothing is more important than your people,” says Myer. “To do this work, if you protect your people and prepare them and support them, the magic happens.”
Myer’s LifeGift board robustly supports his continuing education and he’s completed several executive education programs at Stanford’s business school. He’s put to work what he’s learned at LifeGift and plans to implement some ideas with his work leading The Alliance’s board. He’s a proponent of strategy development, which he is quick to point out, is not strategic planning. “The strategic plan is dead,” he says. “Long live strategy. Strategy development is dynamic. It’s adaptive and it works.”
He’s also been influenced by his study of design thinking. “One of the things around design thinking is prototyping – you develop it and try it. Don’t wait until it’s perfect before you implement it. Just get the idea and try it out.”
Myer is keen on The Alliance’s work to convene organ donation and transplant professionals to collaborate and share expertise to advance the field. “The Alliance is the best proxy for how this work happens in our community,” says Myer. “It’s so fun to go to a meeting because you can have a question, one question at one moment in one room (or now on one Zoom call) and you can get expert opinions without having to go call another group because they’re not there. That’s the secret sauce of The Alliance.”
“The Alliance brings all the perspectives of people who have deep experience and knowledge, who are willing to share and willing to listen and work to get things better. And that’s the whole point, to make it work better, get more patients transplanted, take better care of our donor families, and immerse our field with new ideas.”
Myer, now in his seventh year on The Alliance board, came to organ donation and transplantation through the world of emergency services. In his senior year at Cornell, he bunked for free in the volunteer Ithaca, NY Fire Department and then became a career firefighter and paramedic in Fairfax, VA from 1985-90. “I had one patient who was a kidney donor that I had taken care of and unfortunately didn’t survive. And I got that letter from the organ procurement group at Georgetown. I was really struck by that as I got more and more interested in critical care.”
Myer frequently attributes being lucky to important milestones in his life’s journey, including:
- the tip of ‘don’t think, just do’ from his high school math teacher that helped him get past his algebra block;
- the recommendation from renowned transplant surgeon Timothy Pruett at UVA that landed him his first job at the Virginia Organ Procurement Agency even though he wasn’t a nurse;
- the experience of working with Helen Bottenfield and Bill Anderson, whom he described as some of the founders of tissue banking; and
- his term as board chair at The Alliance.
Myer credits his wife, Jamie, as being an essential and active partner in his organ donation career. She, their four adult children, and Balzy, their brindle boxer, live in Houston, Texas. He grew up in Virginia on a 240-acre horse and cattle farm where he mucked out stalls, groomed horses, and did farm work.
“What ultimately drives me is bringing such goodness from such badness,” says Myer. “Our whole mission is ‘we offer hope.’ You take something so bad, then you have an opportunity to be there with the donor families in that difficult time and then such amazing goodness comes from that. I always say to our staff and my colleagues, you may think that the world is having a hard time right now and there’s badness around but look at this, the world still is filled with generosity. I mean, it’s incredible. So, we’re a little part of that. That’s what I love.”