Monday, February 12, 2007

Mary Lou Jepsen - Inspiring

At age 29, Jepsen found herself suffering from blistering headaches, confined to a wheelchair, and sleeping 20 hours a day. She was just about to drop out of school when an MRI revealed a tumor on her pituitary, a small gland at the base of the brain central to hormone production. She underwent surgery to have the tumor removed and emerged from the ordeal ready to move on with her life. “There’s a stigma when you undergo brain surgery: are you still smart or not? So afterwards I tried to challenge myself to find out.” She finished her Ph.D. in the next six months and then cofounded MicroDisplay, a Fremont, Calif.–based company that manufactures liquid-­crystal-on-silicon chips for high-definition TV displays. She left MicroDisplay in 2003, citing “creative differences” with its chief executive, but within days Intel was recruiting her.

Her health problems weren’t quite over, though. As a result of the operation, Jepsen’s body now makes no hormones, requiring a rigid schedule of twice-daily hormone supplements to keep her alive. Now that she’s a globe-trotting computer executive for the OLPC venture, the regimen can be tough to follow; last March she went into adrenal shock on board a plane, forcing it to make an emergency landing. (On the bright side, Jepsen reports that as a result of her hormone deficiency, she is unaffected by jet lag.)

That's Mary Lou Jepson, CTO of the 'One Laptop Per Child' (OLPC) project.


Kathryn Featherston said...

I empathize with Ms. Jepsen as I also am inflicted with panhypopituitarism due to a number of problems, including a pituitary tumor. I also have a second tumor in the sphenoid sinus space. It is true that for the rest of one's life, it is imperative to always remember to take the hormones that are no longer made by the pituitary which is now non-functional. I had a similar situation to Ms. Jepsen's while on a plane flying from Los Angeles to Washington, DC. Upon learning of my having a serious health problem back in the cabin, the pilot was king enough to descent immediately from 37,000 feet to 7,000 feet to lower cabin pressure and temperature. He finished the trip in record time and there was an ambulance on the tarmac when we landed. I will always be grateful to the pilot and crew of that airplane. I am married to a retired Navy pilot, so I knew that the pilot of our Washington-bound plane was determined to do whatever it took to see that I got medical care as soon as possible. (I later learned that dramatic changes in atmospheric pressure are felt more intensely by those with pituitary disease). I wish that Ms. Jepsen did not have to be burdened with this disease while still so young. I was able to make it into my 50's before the pituitary disease struck. It's to her credit that she fights to stay an active and successful member of the workforce, something which I was unable to do. I wish her well and pray that her health will continue to allow her a successful and rewarding life.

Rams said...

kathryn featherston,
Great to hear your story. My little ailments look trivial in comparison. Folks like you are a real inspiration. Thanks for dropping by.