As a rifleman who underwent rigorous training in the Republic of Korea Marine Corps as part of his national service, Kevin Cho had no doubts about his health.
“I had severe myopia, but I believe I’m still very healthy,” Choi told CNBC’s Make It.
But everything changed in 2016, when he was diagnosed with glaucoma – a chronic, progressive eye disease caused by damage to the optic nerve.
Although glaucoma is common in older people, Choi was only 26 when he was diagnosed.
At the time, Choi said he had already lost half of the vision in his right eye, and only had 60% to 70% vision in his left eye — something that could have been avoided with foresight.
But later that year, he rose above these hurdles by launching his own healthcare startup, Medihall.
The devices assess cardiovascular risk using retinal images and artificial intelligence — the first of its kind, Medihall told CNBC Make It.
With $5,000 in seed capital, he started his business six years ago with ophthalmologist Dr. Tyler Heingtack Rim.
Today, the company announced that it has raised millions of dollars from investors, and its devices have been approved in several countries in the European Union and Asia.
How did an advanced glaucoma diagnosis inspire Choi to start his own company? CNBC Make It knows.
Choi, CEO of MedUhale, said he firmly believes the findings are “not a coincidence”.
As an industrial engineer by training, he started thinking about AI solutions that could improve early detection of diseases.
“There must be a reason why this happened to me,” the 31-year-old said, “and being an engineer myself, I think I can solve it.”
As a clinician, Dr. Reem understands the “unmet needs” in clinical settings for the diagnosis of cardiovascular disease—typically with computed tomography scans.
“CT scans are resource-intensive and time-consuming, burdening healthcare providers and patients alike,” he added.
A long, patient journey is a huge hurdle to overcome. Even now, every time I go to the hospital for a glaucoma test, I get really nervous… it’s a long two to three hour test. [for results].
Co-Founder and CEO Mediwhale
Choi’s own experience with “long patient journeys,” referring to the time the patient waits in line at the hospital to get test results from doctors — also inspired him to create a faster alternative.
“The long patient journey is a big hurdle to overcome. Even now, every time I go to the hospital for a glaucoma test, I get really nervous… it’s a long two-to-three-hour exam. [for results].”
Mediwhale claims that just one retinal photograph of the eye can achieve the “same accuracy” in detecting cardiovascular risk as a CT scan, while providing patient reports “within a minute”.
“It only takes a few seconds because it doesn’t require any expansion. The image is uploaded to the cloud system at once and automatically analyzed by our AI,” explains Reem.
Choi said the founders’ biggest challenge was convincing other doctors that the eyes could be a “window to the whole body.”
“The eyes are the only organs in the body that can see blood vessels in the body without any invasive procedures,” Reem added.
“Changes in the microvascular structure of the retina … have been identified as strong predictors of diseases related to blood vessels, such as cardiovascular and kidney issues, because the changes often occur well before you even notice some important symptoms,” Ream explained.
For Choi, finding your “why” and purpose is critical to overcoming challenges – both in life and in business.
Knowing that glaucoma could have been detected earlier keeps him on his mission, to prevent more people from getting the disease until it’s “too late.”
“Maybe for someone who is insecure about their health…a simple eye scan can change their life.”
The health care business is very conservative. Every conversation I have with doctors or experts… is a lesson to be learned.
Founder and CEO Mediwhale