Monday, June 6, 2011

75 Years & The Lilly Experience

About a month ago, my parents visited Indianapolis and we were able to set up a long-awaited tour of the Eli Lilly headquarters.

This has been something that had been on the mind for a long time, going back seven years since I'd moved to Indiana from southeast Michigan. Back in early 2010, I'd had the chance to briefly walk through a part of the historic museum when attending a JDRF Research Update where I met Aaron Kowalski. I wrote about that experience at that time. But coordinating a tour with my mom was more tricky, as the company has had tighter security protocol since 9/11 and the touring isn't something they do all that often anymore. Finally, we had that opportunity in early May through a contact I've made locally as a board member of the Diabetes Youth Foundation of Indiana.

The stars had finally aligned for this visit to take place while my parents were in town. My mom and I both have Lilly medals - she's a 50-year recipient marking her diagnosis in 1958, and I've received my own 25-year medal marking my diagnosis in 1984.

Dad snapped photo of Mom and Me posing by Lilly fountain.
My mom writes, "Since Michael moved to Indy and we went down to visit, driving by the Lilly campus, I really wanted to visit there. Why, you might ask?  In my mind, since 1958, it has been Lilly that has kept me alive.  Without their manufacturing of insulin, I would have been dead as a five year old."

The first really neat thing was the two sides of a hallway, one with letters that people had written to Lilly thanking them.  Obviously, I’m not the only one grateful to this company.  The other side was Lilly saying thank you to the world, showing how they reach out quickly to the world in times of disaster.  Hurricane Katrina, the recent tornadoes in Alabama, the floods along the Mississippi, Japan, Haiti, and basically anywhere in the world when a disaster hits, Lilly goes in to help.

Next were showcases with many old, and some not so old, things from Lilly.  Some of the things I remember were old urine test strips and huge syringes that had to be sterilized in boiling water.  I remember my mother sterilizing my glass syringe and sharpening my needle.  They had little trinkets the salesmen would once give to doctors and medical staff, such as pens and buttons and even a little plastic bathtub with the Lilly name and logo on it. Another walkway showcased a display of a timeline of photos that showed what was happening in the world and at the same time was happening at Lilly.  Fascinating to see their developments in relationship to what was going on in the world.  For example, Humalog was invented at the same time that John Travolta was starring in Saturday Night Fever.  The timeline was not finished to allow for the addition of future discoveries.

During our tour, there were many groups of new sales reps also taking the tour as part of their training.  When you work for Lilly, you are thoroughly taught the history of the company.

We saw the actual office where Col. Lilly worked, and has some family history photos and memorabilia displayed around the office. One item was an historic transaction book, which is where the actual Lilly signature we all see displayed in red everywhere came from. It was all pretty cool to see.

Outside, we visited the replica of the original lab building of Colonel Lilly, where during the Civil War he founded a company that made only the highest quality remedies, made at the suggestions of doctors, not just what could be purchased from a side-show huckster.

Photo courtesy of Lilly Diabetes.
One of the most memorable aspects of the visit was outside, when we were able to see up close and personal the marble tribute wall identifying the people who had earned the Lilly 75 Year Medal. The inscription says, "Seventy-Five Years on Insulin, Seventy-Five Years of Life."

On the backside, 10 names are listed now. But more will be added in the future as People With Diabetes reach those milestones thanks to longer and healthier lives. The list will grow thanks to the evolution of technology and medicine, and that's encouraging. My mom hopes to add her own name in 23 years, but one cool thing that came to my mind while we were visiting was our combined tally of years Living With Diabetes. Together, we've reached that "semisesquicentennial" milestone.

That's pretty cool, I think!

After the visit, I had to get back to the office, as it was a workday - I work in downtown Indy a couple miles from the Lilly building. My parents went to a later breakfast, and then had a chance to take a walk downtown and see the original site of the Lilly lab on Meridian Street. The historic building has a plaque fastened to it, and is not even a block from my office, connected by an alleyway with easy access from the back part of my building. Anyhow, they had the chance to see that extra element of history as part of the whole tour experience.

My mom writes that this visit is something she'll always remember. I completely agree, and so appreciate the fact that we had the chance to experience it together. We express our thanks for the two at Lilly who helped make this happen and create such a great memory.

5 comments:

Heidi / D-Tales said...

What a neat experience! Thanks for sharing the highlights of your tour. This was a fun post to read. :)

Only 10 names on the 75 years tribute, huh? Part of me wants to see no more added, because a cure has been found. But if a cure is still far off, I hope lots more names are added, including your mother's. :)

The DL said...

WOW! What a special trip and tour! It seems like you had a really lovely time. You are so lucky to have a mother as wonderful as yours :)

Scott said...

A tour is always a learning experience. In spite of Lilly's loss of market share, they remain an important global source of insulin for millions worldwide, and the Lilly Foundation benefits many nonprofit organization's as well. Sounds like the tour was interesting the tidbits about when Humalog was first discovered in the lab is also interesting, so thanks for sharing!

shannon said...

This was a very interesting post, thank you so much for sharing your experience. And congrats to you and your mom!

busymom said...

What a great post, Michael! Thanks for sharing it-it made me cry. I love the thank you letters and timeline (UNfinished!), and I didn't know they gave medals for diaversaries. I am thrilled to see that they already have people on the 75-year monument, and more to come.
I'll have to go the next time I come through Indy-is it hard to get in on a tour? We could go this summer!
: ) Holly