Dr. Harrison speaking at
the International Fetal
Medicine and Surgery
Society meeting in Hawaii,
every day. I could sort of work with them, and they
would let me do some big stuff, and then we would
order a few lambs. I don’t think we had to pay for
too much in the first couple of years. And then, of
course, we started to get grants, and we’ve more or
less received NIH funding ever since. That is true
for the clinical side, too; we eventually applied for
studies, NIH trial grants, and so on. The animals
were often paid for out of our clinical revenue, so
that was doable.
The thing that is really difficult is paying for
patients. Especially when insurance could deny everything, and the costs were huge, like millions of dollars, because the patients were in the intensive care
unit. It’s a huge fight that I don’t think you could win
today without some incredible source of funding. In
those days, everybody was used to essentially giving
away care. You know, when patients couldn’t pay,
everybody sort of looked the other way. That was
true for all the first fetal operations. The hospital basically absorbed the costs. We didn’t really even have
to argue with the administrators very much, even
though we didn’t have a formal program in place.
There was no formal credentialing? The family
just agreed to consent and you were able to
That’s exactly how we did it. We would, of course, go
to our ethicist and offer to go in front of the human
research committee, which was a new body at that
time. It was a constant dialogue, but no one ever told
us to get rid of the program or asked who was going
to pay for it.
Describe the process of applying for your first NIH
grant. Did somebody help you through it?
No, we prepared it on our own. The first one I received
was a March of Dimes’ Basil O’ Connor Starter Scholar
Research Award. We had that for a couple of years,
which got us started. Then we just taught ourselves
how to write grants. No one really mentored or taught
us; we just did it.
Were there any points in the process that were
Yes, many of them. We had a lot of failures, of course.
One example is when we first started repairing diaphragmatic hernia in utero. We decided that rather
than just do this that we would actually apply to do a
proper NIH-funded study, which we were awarded.
In the middle of that study, things, particularly those
related to licensing issues, started to go badly, and I
think on several occasions the NIH set a moratorium.
They said you can’t do anymore until you solve this or
that problem. There were lots of problems, and starting and stopping those studies was incredible agony
and required working with the bureaucracy.
How has receiving the Jacobson Award affected
your career? Did you get to meet Dr. Jacobson?
It was just such a wonderful experience. Here’s a
great story that involves some other folks. Dr. Jacobson is a surgeon in New York, and is an innovator who