Brand Storytelling in Public Relations | Jarvik Heart

The relationship between a doctor and a patient can be moving and profound.

That’s what I noticed when I met with Dr. Robert Jarvik, inventor of the first permanent artificial heart, at his office in New York City.

He was showing me what he called a “document” of a talk he gave alongside his patient, Peter Houghton, the longest-living recipient of the Jarvik 2000 artificial heart.  It was a grainy video, shot from the back of a lecture hall at a hospital.  Despite the lack of production values and the formal setting of the talk, I sensed a strong and complex emotional bond between these two men.

It was a relationship I wanted to explore further.

So Dr. Jarvik and I decided we would move ahead and create a Strategic Documentary to do just that. It would be a story that could be shown internally within Dr. Jarvik’s company, Jarvik Heart, as well as in public relations settings.

We decided to shoot the film in two locations:  the hotel suite where British-based Peter Houghton would be staying on one of his yearly visits to New York; and Central Park, which was just across the street from his hotel.

A very special story

From the beginning, I knew we had something special.

“C’mon guys, this is a good story,” says Houghton at the opening of the film. “This is about how different people with different skills learned to love each other and made a difference.” Dr. Jarvik explains that he himself “is an inventor,” whereas Peter Houghton
is “more a philosopher.”

The story then gets deeper and deeper into a relationship between two men with completely different world views and abilities, who, nonetheless, recognize that “we are part of something that is bigger than both of us.”

This fascinating and emotionally charged film debuted at the launch of  the Smithsonian’s “Treasures of American History” exhibition, where Dr. Jarvik’s first artificial heart, the Jarvik 7, was on display.

The video has also appeared on Good Morning America, and has been used for a range of public relations and corporate communications functions ever since.

Sadly, Mr. Houghton died in late 2007. The cause of death was multiple organ failure.

His heart was still beating.