Meet Sam Browd, Co-Founder of VICIS
PEDIATRIC NEUROSURGEON AT SEATTLE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL AND PROFESSOR OF NEUROLOGICAL SURGERY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON. DIRECTOR OF THE HYDROCEPHALUS PROGRAM, MEDICAL DIRECTOR OF THE TONE MANAGEMENT PROGRAM AND MEDICAL DIRECTOR OF THE SPORTS CONCUSSION PROGRAM AT SEATTLE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL. CO-FOUNDER AND THE CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER AT VICIS.
VICIS: Tell me about your background/experience in neurosurgery. What attracted you to this field of work?
SB: “I always knew I wanted to be a brain surgeon. I started doing research in high school on Alzheimer’s disease and transitioned in college into a lab using MRI to understand brain anatomy in various diseases. That led to medical school and me completing a PhD in neuroscience using functional MRI imaging to understand motor learning and imagery, ironically the same tools that are used by most elite athletes to improve their performance.
While in college I was introduced to the neurosurgery department at the University of Florida, and later during residency in neurosurgery in Salt Lake City, UT, I was lucky to work at the premiere pediatric neurosurgery practice in the U.S. I fell in love with the kids and their families and knew that was my calling.”
VICIS: How was the initial concept for VICIS developed? What was the core inspiration?
SB: “The initial concept happened while I was pediatric neurosurgery conference in Hawaii. One group was discussing a new type of foam liner and it just struck me that everyone was focusing their efforts on small, incremental changes in football helmet technology. During the lecture I jotted down a sketch of a new helmet that I thought would reduce the impact forces at the time of collision. I came back to Seattle and sketched the ideas more formally and reached out to VICIS co-founder Per Reinhall to talk about the idea and problems that I wanted to solve.
The inspiration is and has always been about kids and making sports safer for them. I have worked clinically with youth and professional athletes and the problem of head related injury remains a concern for the athlete and their family. I have always felt we could do better by bringing improved safety to sports and VICIS is the culmination of that desire.”
VICIS: Throughout the medical/neurological community, how has the ZERO1 helmet been received?
SB: “The reception of the ZERO1 helmet has been universally favorable amongst my medical colleagues. Everyone acknowledges that more needs to be done in order to make sports safer; our efforts to merge the best minds in engineering and medicine resonates with those who know the issues and the current state of football helmet technology. It seems everyone has been encouraged by our efforts and in return, that encourages us to keep doing things with scientific and medical rigor.”
VICIS: Have you had any cases that you’ve dealt with personally that convinced you that something had to be done in regards to safety equipment?
SB: “I have had the heart wrenching experience of having to tell youth athletes and their families that they must retire from a sport they love due to repeated concussions. Even though I deal with life and death decisions and conversations daily as a pediatric neurosurgeon, these discussions around sports can be some of the most difficult and life altering. It seemed obvious to me that if we could improve safety equipment maybe less of these types of conversations would have to happen.”
VICIS: With all of the research you have done, what have been the most interesting revelations that you have discovered?
SB: “Over the years I think the most interesting revelation I have made is knowing what makes for a good question or problem to investigate. We all have limited bandwidth and want to make the most impact possible when we try to solve or learn something about a problem. The issue of sports injuries and safety seems to fit this equation: All too little attention was being paid to improving helmet technology, the right team could be assembled to learn, understand and evolve the current state of thinking, and the impact when successful would be huge. These are the types of big problems I like to tackle (no pun intended).”
VICIS: As the ZERO1 is about to enter its first training camps and first on-field use, what are some of the reactions you hope to learn from the players?
SB: “I am hopeful the players understand the deep thought and thousands of man-hours that have gone into engineering, designing, testing and building their helmet. I hope they are excited to use the state of the art technology; I also hope they think their helmet is so comfortable that they forget they are wearing a highly refined piece of safety technology during a game.”
VICIS: Have you ever experienced a sports related head injury of your own?
SB: “I have. I raced BMX growing up in South Florida and sustained a few concussions. Back then no one really understood or cared too much about that injury. I remember after one concussion I “woke up” in my parents’ house with retrograde amnesia, scary stuff by today’s standards. I’m hopeful the introduction of better safety equipment makes these types of all to common stories less frequent.”
VICIS: What are some of your favorite features in the ZERO1? Was there any one thing that was a particular challenge to overcome?
SB: “While we focus a lot on the energy absorbing RFLX layer of the helmet, the quick release jaw pad was an interesting challenge. I attended a helmet removal seminar as part of my work as a sideline neurosurgeon at NFL games and learned that for current helmets we had to use tongue depressors taped together to try and wedge the jaw pads free in order to safely remove today’s helmets. I was horrified. I came back to the engineering team at VICIS and said, “Can we please find a way to improve jaw pad removal?”
Now the ZERO1 helmet has the best jaw pad release mechanism in the industry. This is what we have done throughout the process: Break down the helmet to its core and redesign while looking at everything with an eye towards improving safety, fit, comfort, and performance.”
VICIS: What are you most proud of in regards to your contributions to the ZERO1 project?
SB: “As co-founder and chief medical officer, I am most proud of our mission and vision to develop the safest possible helmet. “Protect the Athlete,” is my unyielding focus as we engineer the next generation of sports safety technology. If we stay focused on this core principle we will succeed and I’ll feel that I will have made an important and lasting contribution as a pediatric neurosurgeon, inventor and parent.”