Breast Cancer Survivor Reinvents Medical ID Jewelry

Portion of jewelry line profits supports breast cancer and diabetes research at CUMC

October 18, 2013

When Isobel Hoevers was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer six years ago, she had confidence in her pick for a surgeon, Sheldon Feldman, MD, Columbia’s chief of breast surgery and a leading authority on minimally invasive surgery

But after surgery, when she developed lymphedema—a sometimes painful and disfiguring swelling in the arm that can occur after lymph nodes are removed or damaged by radiation—she faced a dilemma.

Like others with lymphedema, Ms. Hoevers was advised to wear a medic alert bracelet to warn EMTs, nurses, and doctors of her condition. Because the arm affected by lymphedema is more susceptible to infection, even simple procedures such as drawing blood, being vaccinated, or measuring blood pressure can lead to a severe infection.

“I like jewelry and I didn’t want to wear any of the options out there. They’re not very attractive,” she says. “But millions of people like me need to wear alert bracelets. If you’re unconscious, it can speak for you and save your life.”

One day Ms. Hoevers was talking with a friend, Patricia Detiger, a jewelry designer, about the difficulty she had finding a piece she liked. Ms. Detiger's husband, who has been living with type 1 diabetes since childhood, had voiced the same complaint and rarely wore medical ID jewelry despite his frequent travels.

The two friends decided to start ISOS, a line of fashionable medical jewelry that strikes a balance between style and function. Each piece of ISOS jewelry displays the Staff of Asclepius (aka, “the snake”), which EMTs, nurses, and doctors are trained to look for in unresponsive patients, and the relevant medical information.

“We also designed the pieces so they didn’t look 'too medical,'” says Ms. Hoevers. “Many people don’t want to wear medical alert bracelets because they’re too obvious to colleagues or casual acquaintances.”

The two friends have been producing the pieces for the past year, with a portion of the sales donated to breast cancer and diabetes researchers at CUMC.

“Dr. Feldman saved my life and I wanted to give something back to support his research,” says Ms. Hoevers. “These are causes that are close to our hearts.”