How Kim Rodriguez, CEO of Acessa Health & 9 months pregnant, is revolutionizing Womens Health in the MedTech Industry
Kim is the CEO of Acessa Health, which offers a minimally invasive, uterine-sparing solution for women with symptomatic fibroids.
Unlike many treatment alternatives, FDA-cleared Acessa can treat almost all fibroid sizes and locations, on an outpatient basis, with women returning to normal activity in days, not weeks. Yes to this!
We spoke with her about being a female CEO in the medtech industry, how she's handled being pregnant while running a company, fibroids and pregnancy, and lots more...
1) What is Acessa Health?
It's a women's health medical device company and I'm the president and CEO. We have a technology or procedure that is for the treatment of women who have uterine fibroids. Uterine fibroids are a benign growth in the uterus. They can be the size of a blueberry to the size of a grapefruit. Today the standard of care is a hysterectomy where they cut the uterus out or they do a myomectomy to cut the fibroids out, both of which are major surgery.
We offer a minimally invasive procedure where women can go home on the same day. It's a 2 port laparoscopic procedure so it's minimally invasive surgery and women are typically going home on a Tylenol afterwards. The procedure uses a needle to target each fibroid with heat and we destroy each fibroid by heating up the tissue until it dies. There's not cutting, no suturing and patients are back to normal in 3-5 days as opposed to major surgery which is a recovery of 6-8 weeks and women are on opioids, etc. We have FDA clearance and we're the only company doing this procedure currently in the United States.
Our plan is to commercialize broadly in Europe in the next 12-24 months with the treatment. We're actually doing a study in Germany right now where we're looking at women who eventually want to get pregnant after their fibroid treatment.
2) What happens if a women leaves her fibroids untreated? What are unwanted consequences?
The symptoms of women with fibroids are pretty dramatic and debilitating. Some symptoms are heavy menstrual bleeding, back pain, urinary frequency and pain, painful sex, abdominal pain and discomfort. Some women can look obese or even pregnant because of how big their fibroids can become in their abdomen. Not treating fibroids can lead to a very difficult lifestyle. The bleeding can be severe - I have stories of patients who are at work sitting on a trash bag.
3) How does having fibroids affect getting pregnant?
At this time, the Acessa procedure, has a warning label and does not have sufficient clinical data evaluating the safety for women who want to later become pregnant, which is why we're currently doing a study in Germany. Women should discuss the procedure with their OBGYN if they are considering future pregnancy.
That said, The Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology published the findings of a study that looked at the pregnancy outcomes of 28 women after the Acessa Procedure. The full study is available here.
4) Is it more difficult to get pregnant if you have fibroids?
Sometimes, it depends on where the fibroid is located. If the fibroid is in the cavity then there may be difficulty with implantation of the egg and the sperm. But if they're in the muscle wall, than the woman may have no problems other than discomfort while the baby grows.
5) Is your procedure covered by health insurance in the US?
Yes, we have many insurance carriers covering the procedure (about half the US) and we're trying to add more and more.
6) Is this procedure a game changer for women suffering from fibroids?
Yes! In addition to resolving their symptoms, but really as important, we're getting them back to their daily life and routines, getting them back to normal much more quickly than the standard of care, which is a hysterectomy and major surgery.
A lot of women don't have time to take off work for 6-8 weeks for a hysterectomy or to not be able to take care of their kids or families for that long. We're enabling women to get back to their daily lives more quickly. And they're keeping their uterus! So if you want to have children, this is the only procedure that allows you to do that.
7) Tell us how you got into medtech! We read that you had wanted to follow in your mother's footsteps, who was a nurse, and go into healthcare...
I was working in a hospital at the time and I was so in love with the medical side of helping patients but I also realized there are medical devices and drugs that also help patients. And I felt if somehow I could bring those two things together from a business perspective than I might be able to help more patients than working in a hospital.
I was in my 20's when I found my way into medical technology (medtech) and just fell in love with it and was hooked. I was applying to medical schools when I was recruited by a company on the business side. After working there I decided to go back to school and get my MBA.
8) You're the CEO and president of your company in an industry that is male dominated. What kind of advantages are there as female running a company like Acessa Health?
There are few of us, not a lot in the industry. I might be biased, but I think based on patient and physicianfeedback, women really appreciate having someone who's leading the company who really understands what they're going through. On the surgical side of things, making sure the ergonomics of the technology fit women's surgeon hands vs only men’s hands. Finally, related to our messaging and positioning in the marketplace. Having a womens perspective is pretty important.
9) Being a new business and a new procedure, were there low moments/challenges starting the business?
Acessa Health was formed by buying the assets from a previous company, the technology was actually developed over a decade ago and some solid foundational work was done, but the technology wasn't ready to be scaled, launched and available to women broadly.
There certainly were doubts and uncertainty whether we could relaunch the system, but we have, so that's very exciting. With the right team, the right investors and the right focus we've been able to bring the company to a point where we've done almost 4,000 procedures, we have 47 peer reviewed publications, we've launched 3rd generation technology.
10) You're 9 months pregnant with your first! Tell us about being pregnant while running your company.
That's tough, pursuing a career and trying to have a family is always challenging. We were having trouble with infertility but we were finally blessed with a little boy who'll be here between Christmas and New Years and we're so excited.
Now that I'm pregnant I certainly have a better appreciation for working moms, more than I've ever had. I love having that perspective because women are entering the workforce in big numbers and they want to lead and start their own companies and take leadership roles. I think a working mom is one of the best hires you can make. The women that can pull off everything from the home, to family to work are the heroes in the story.
11) As the CEO of a startup, what's your plan on taking time off after baby's here?
I plan on coming back soon after having the baby. I'm thinking about how to best do that and I know I'm going to need a lot of help. We're running a startup, it's not like I work for a large company that offers a lot of vacation time. Because I'm leading this company I'm probably only taking 5 weeks off officially, and then I'll be doing a hybrid work from home for about 2 months following that so that I can still be connecting with my son and breastfeeding.
I even plan to bring him in to the office with my nanny so I can be close to him I will. I'm trying to think about how to make it all work. I have an excellent team so I'm not worried about who's going to cover for me, it's my connection inside the company and I know it will be hard to let go!
12) How do you feel about breastfeeding?
I'm definitely going to try and do my very best. I think there's two sides to this coin in terms about how people feel about it. I'm going to make my best effort and do it as long as I can, and if I can't I'll do the second best thing, pumping and if I can't do that then we'll find some really good formula and will make sure that my baby has the right nutrition..that's my position having never done it before.
13) As the CEO and president of your company what are your tips for dressing in the office as a female in a leadership role, especially with a bump.
Healthcare tends to be a more conservative industry than others, so I try to keep my office attire classic so I can be ready for impromptu meetings with physicians or investors.
You certainly can't come into the office in leggings. All the women are looking up to you to set the pace. I am in awe of the women who can do it all and look so great doing it. If there's a way to use your bump as an accessory and keep your fashion sense and comfort. And clothes like yours allow that!
I bring in some personality with jewelry or unique silhouettes. I actually wore high heels all the way to 9 months pregnant which made me feel classy the whole way through!
14) What are your favorite Teat&Cosset styles that you'd feel confident wearing to the office?
Thanks so much Kim and congratulations! Kim had her baby after Christmas in late December and her and her family are doing great! This interview was done just before that. Love, Peggy