In 2012, Syed Ali was leading his college baseball team as pitcher in a matchup against one of their rivals in Florida when he tore two muscles in the rotator cuff of his shoulder. In what may have been one throw, he lost his ability to play the game he loved and what had become a large part of his identity.
“It kind of felt like everything that I cared about, everything that had led me to that point, was gone,” he said.
Recovering from his injury was a physical and mental challenge. Physically, he had to do basic exercises every day to help the injury heal and to regain his strength. Mentally, he couldn’t play the sport that had become such a big part of his life. He missed the rest of the season and postponed graduation by one year so that he could finish his collegiate baseball career. Many of his friends were graduating that year, and he was supposed to be on the stage with them.
As Syed recovered from his injury, he refocused on his academics. He also turned his attention toward other areas of his life where he could improve, like being a good teammate and being a good listener. He realized during this time that baseball was a small part of who he was and that he had much more to offer. He returned to play for a fifth year of college with a new perspective and had one of his best seasons, breaking all of his personal records and making all-conference teams.
“I look back on it, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” he said.
During his fifth year, Syed recalled a time when a friend and teammate was struggling with baseball and his personal life. Syed listened and shared his story and feelings from his journey the year prior. His friend went on to turn around his season and improve his grades.
I think that’s probably the most important factor of the whole business, to really empathize with the patient.
“That was empathy right there, just being able to come down to my friend’s level and talk to him about a similar situation that I went through,” he said. “It made me feel good to help him, and it made him feel like there was not only hope for him, but that there was plenty of light in the tunnel.”
Empathy is one of Syed’s greatest strengths. A case manager at Novocure in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Syed works with insurers to help facilitate coverage approvals for patients prescribed Novocure’s cancer treatment. Syed keeps the patient at heart during his interactions with insurers.
“This is not just a number,” he said. “This is a person who has a family, they have feelings, they have friends, and they have brain cancer. When you have a reason for your argument and you feel strongly about it, it’s really hard to stop someone like that.”
Syed has felt a strong connection to Novocure’s patient-forward mission since joining the company in 2015. In order to empathize with patients, he said, one has to try to understand what they are going through.
“I think that’s probably the most important factor of the whole business, to really empathize with the patient,” he said.
Syed also practices empathy with his colleagues, health care providers and insurers.
“Empathy is one of those things that you don’t just pick and choose when you want to use it,” he said. “You have it and use it. You have to be respectful to whoever you’re talking to and that goes a long way.”
For Syed, his job is much more than a paycheck. He loves having the opportunity to help patients gain access to Novocure’s cancer treatment.
“Not every patient’s case is going to go that way, but they all have the possibility of turning out that way,” he said. “The opportunity I have to help somebody else is what keeps me motivated.”