Dr. Colette Cozean is building a portfolio of passions in her second half. In her first half, Colette served as CEO of Innovative BioDefense Diodem, Premier Laser Systems, Nocari, Abela Pharmaceuticals. In her second half, she has the audacious goal to help establish quality healthcare centers within a 1-2 day walk for every person in Kenya, Africa.
Dr. Colette Cozean explains that in some parts of Kenya, “You can walk for two weeks and not get to the closest hospital.”
Her partnerships are bringing hope to orphans and medical care to some of the country’s most remote areas.
For her day job, she’s a seasoned medical-device inventor and successful entrepreneur. She’s also a wife and mother. And, yet, she’s not in a rush. Colette’s calm reflects a sense of focus and calling. She slowly but passionately talks about this unique portfolio of roles, never rushing from one point to the next or coming across as if she’s already thinking about the next big thing, even if somewhere in her mind she probably is.
Colette regularly wakes up with detailed diagrams for complex medical devices floating around in her head. So she gathers her team at the office and they go to work filling in the blanks and turning ideas into new products. She’s a risk taking visionary with a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. She also left school one semester shy of a medical degree. As she told Business Week for a 1997 article detailing the success of her medical-laser start-up, Premier Laser Systems, “I was only going to medical school to learn more for my work as an engineer.”
While still in college, Colette developed a device that stimulates degenerating muscles. In the 1980’s she helped develop the “peristaltic pump” used on IV units and arthroscopy equipment for knee surgeries. Premier Laser Systems took flight and received national accolades by getting FDA approval for a laser that cuts teeth without pain.
Colette built this career while raising her two children with her husband and childhood sweetheart, Kim, who teaches math and computer science and, as she puts it, “is as opposite from me as you can imagine.” While Colette craves adventure and risk, he prefers comfort and stability. But they have built their family on common beliefs and values, and they’ve learned how to share each other’s successes and how to know when to do things together and when to do things apart.
Family is the cornerstone of Colette’s portfolio, the compassionate wife and mother who cares deeply about relationships. That is why she so intentionally developed a leadership team she can trust while she moves so fluidly between the worlds of business, ministry, and family.
It’s impossible to miss, in fact, that her giftedness in academics, medicine, engineering and business never take her far from her deepest passions – her love for others, especially children (both her own and others) and her “childlike” faith in God.
You hear it in her voice when she talks about taking her son on trips with her to Kenya or about the joy she found while working from home and caring for her daughter as she recovered from and learned to live with the effects of a near fatal case of rheumatic fever. And you hear it when she talks about the orphans in Kenya.
“My passion has always been kids,” she says.
That’s why she was so excited about a mission trip she took a few years ago with some members of her church. The plan was to spend three weeks working with children in an orphanage, but Colette couldn’t escape her background in medicine and her reputation or problem-solving. They’d only been there a few days when the president of Kenya asked if their group could help evaluate ways to improve the health-care system in a country ripe with tribal factions.
“They have more than 60 tribes in the country, and they don’t talk to each other very well,” she says. “So they couldn’t figure out their health care problems…Their main hospitals were in the big cities, but they didn’t know what was going on in the local area. He asked if while we were there, we would just see what we could.”
“I thought, ‘You know, Lord, I came here to go work with kids, and now You’re asking me to do something medical and I really don’t want to.’ But at the end it was really obvious that there were some significant issues in the country with regard to medicine.”
Hospitals are not only out of walking range for many Kenyans, but clinics are understaffed and undersupplied. “I watched a young lady eight months pregnant die from hemorrhaging because they didn’t have a simple clamp to stop the bleeding. I watched an 8-year-old boy die because they didn’t have any sutures. Those things are really tough to see,” she says with pain in her voice.
With the government’s support and encouragement, a partnership with her local Presbyteries, Hoag Hospital, and the local Kenyan government began opening and funding dispensaries, while also providing training to the people who would run them.
What makes this strategy scalable is a focus on equipping the nationals to do the work. “The key thing here is we wanted them to be self-sustaining, we wanted them to offer quality care, and what we were there to do was train.” She points out, “It was a real fight because every place we’d show up there would be 300 to 500 people wanting treatment, and we wanted to train the medical people. So do you go slow and train, or do you treat them, or what do you do? “
Her second-half portfolio includes this type of strategic and leveraged compassion as well as a much-needed dose of one-on-one compassion. Colette leads teams to Kenya three or four times a year for two or three weeks at a time, and she still makes helping orphans a part of her agenda.
“Every time I’m there I still get up every morning and go play with the kids in the orphanage,” she says. “That’s still where my passion is, that’s what I like to do.”
Colette helps with programs and partnerships that focus on orphans, but she never wants to stray too far from the personal. She points out that Jesus “taught 12 people so they could teach others” but always stopped for the individuals who crossed His path. “The kids we see in Africa sometimes have been abused so much,” she says, “they don’t even know how to touch, [so we can] give them the gift of touch, love, and caring. I can’t imagine a world without being able to have that personal side of it.”
Colette has a ‘plan it – build it – launch it – release it’ model for business and ministry, so there will likely come a day when she’ll say goodbye to Kenya. As with the businesses she brainstorms and launches, she wants to see the programs in Kenya grow to the point that they’re self-sustaining.
“My last year has been building people to take over and lead the medical trips,” she says. “The next thing, we’re building people to do the distribution. At some point in time I will no longer be needed…There will be a time to move on, and, yes, it will be tremendously sad. I’ll probably go crawl into my husband’s arms, and have a very good cry, but that’s OK.”
It will be OK because there will be something else.
“I’m one of those people who believes that you do dream big, and that God is big enough to handle anything and everything,” she says, “I love watching God work. I can sit there all day watching what He does, and just thoroughly enjoy and revel in it.”