Seasoned Executive Shares his Views on Shockwave Technology, its Past, Present, and Future
Updated: Feb 27
A. Michael Stolarski, the Owner, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Premier Shockwave, Inc. and Premier Shockwave Wound Care, Inc.
Mike started his career at Integrated Health Services, Inc., first as a paralegal, then as an Internal Auditor, eventually accepting a promotion to Controller and again later as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the kidney lithotripsy division. After the lithotripsy division was sold to Healthtronics, Inc., he became its Vice President of Finance and later promoted to the President of the orthopedic division. After overseeing the sale of the orthopedic division to SANUWAVE, Inc., Mike became Acting Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Business Development for SANUWAVE, Inc. Later, Mike purchased SANUWAVE’s orthopedic division, and became the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the new company called Premier Shockwave, Inc. He also sits on the Board of Directors for SANUWAVE Health, Inc. and the Augusta Symphony, Inc.
In December 2017, SANUWAVE was granted the de novo clearance for treating diabetic foot ulcers (DFUs) using its flagship dermaPACE® System. Soon thereafter, SANUWAVE reached a partnership agreement with Premier Shockwave Wound Care, Inc. and Premier Shockwave, Inc. for distribution of the dermaPACE® Systems in selected markets in the United States. Specifically, the agreement covers the Veteran’s Administration (VA), Indian Health Service (IHS) and Tribally Operated Healthcare Services, and US Military Treatment Facilities (MTFs).
Premier Shockwave, Inc. is the leading shockwave company for podiatric and orthopedic applications in the United States and currently serves over 30 VA Hospitals and Military Treatment Facilities (MTFs) in the continental United States and Alaska. Premier Shockwave, Inc. will manage the dermaPACE® business for Premier Shockwave Wound Care, Inc.
Mike has 25-years of experience in the healthcare industry, with the last 20-years in the shockwave industry in various C-Level positions. Mike used his broad knowledge and experience in dealing with various aspects of corporate accounting and finance, including business development, mergers & acquisitions, strategic planning, SEC filings, investor relations, negotiating bank credit facilities, and assisting in quarterly and year-end audit work.
A. Michael Stolarski the Founder, President, and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Premier Shockwave, Inc., and Premier Shockwave Wound Care, Inc. recently chatted with Iulian Cioanta, Ph.D., the Chief Science and Technology Officer for SANUWAVE. Their dynamic dialogue brings up Mike’s personality and business vision, opens the discussion on shockwave technology used for the medical industry, identifies mutual business opportunities, and describes personal experiences that influenced Mike’s life and career, as presented in the following interview:
Iulian: Hi Mike, thank you for taking the time to be here; we're just going to make this casual. Trying to understand your career, how you got in contact with the shockwaves and things like that, and how we ended up working together with a lot of things.
Iulian: So, the first question is just a general one about the beginning of your life. Who besides your parents had the biggest impact on your life?
Mike: Oh, professionally, probably it would be Marshall Elkins, who was the General Counsel at Integrated Health Services. He was the first senior executive to ever give me a big break. That started my career in healthcare, and through a cascade of events, led me to where I am today.
Iulian: What are some of the turning points in your career that lead to where you are now?
Mike: Well, actually that would be going back again with Integrated Health Services. I was an accounting and finance double major in college and graduated during a recession in '92. I floundered for a couple of years and then I worked as a temp paralegal for Integrated Health Services reporting directly to Marshall. After a couple of years, as I sat in his office I said, “Marshall, I think I'm going to go and become a lawyer.” He quickly replied, “Michael, you do not want to do that. What you want to do is to go get your MBA (Master of Business Administration), your CPA (Certified Public Accountant), and you want to go down the finance route.” Not that I wasn't interested in finance and accounting, it was my double major in undergrad, but that was a moment where my career would have gone off on a tangent, and if it had, we wouldn’t be sitting here chatting today.
Iulian: Yeah. Being a lawyer and working in finance are very different. I have experience with one of my sons who thought about becoming a lawyer but then felt that he would be able to excel more in the finance route. He is very successful there. The important thing is to find your niche.
Mike: Exactly, exactly.
Iulian: How did you get on a collision course with the shockwave technology? How did you get into this field? A fantastic field.
Mike: Well following Marshall’s advice, I pursued my Master's in Finance taking evening classes at Loyola College in Baltimore. One evening, after a course on International Investment, Steve Bellone, who was one of my classmates and the Senior Vice President of Finance of Integrated Health Services mentioned to me that he was looking for a CPA to become Controller of the lithotripsy division. [Lithotripsy is the use of shockwaves to break up kidney stones.] Very fortuitously, I had just passed the CPA a couple of weeks before. I told him that I was a CPA, and a couple of weeks later I was the controller of the Lithotripsy Division. Then, nine months later, I caught the President of the division embezzling three quarters of a million dollars. So, he got fired, the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) left, and then I was promoted to CFO. I was kind of like Horatio at the end of Hamlet [Shakespearean play] where I was the only one standing. It's being in the right place at the right time.
Iulian: Now you are the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Premier Shockwave. Could you tell us more about your company?
Mike: We have 70 of the 72 OssaTrons that were brought into the United States through SANUWAVE – Healthtronics deal, Healthtronics’ Orthopedic Division being the entity from which SANUWAVE was formed. We have placed that medical equipment all throughout the United States. We service about 35 states in any given year. Our main customer is the military treatment facilities (MTFs). We have been working with them since our inception in 2008.
Iulian: You know, just to make some clarifications. OssaTrons are bigger/larger devices specifically designed for certain applications, right? And a dermaPACE® System is the subject of collaboration between SANUWAVE and Premier Shockwave, in the field of diabetic foot ulcers (DFUs)?
Mike: The OssaTron® is FDA approved for plantar fasciitis and lateral epicondylitis. It's the only high energy extracorporeal electro-hydraulic shockwave device that's actually approved for orthopedic and podiatric indications, and it is the “gold standard device”. When I left SANUWAVE and created Premier Shockwave, I could have very easily, and for much less money, have gone out and bought a fleet of Siemens Sonocur or Dornier Epos electromagnetic devices, but the fact of the matter is, they're not as good – in fact, there are a number of White Papers concluding that electromagnetic shockwave does no better than placebo. So, that's why I wanted to continue working with the OssaTrons, because electro-hydraulic shockwave works, and the clinical evidence backs that up.
Iulian: And you are continuing your legacy by bringing the first and only shockwave device approved for wound care by FDA and practically initiating the marketing of it throughout the United States.
Mike: We performed our first dermaPACE® in-service at Fort Lewis in Seattle in early March, and over the last several months we have exhibited at several Veteran Affairs Hospitals (VAs), Indian Health Service (IHS) and tribal nation trade shows, and at about 20 facilities. There is a lot of excitement about this game changing technology, and I am confident that we will have device placements by the end of the year.
Iulian: What is your prediction about the future of the use of shockwave technology in the medical field? Do you see other things there where we could branch out?
Mike: Well, besides treating wounds and burns, to me the most exciting thing is what SANUWAVE is doing at the University of Georgia. You are applying shockwaves to staph aureus in vitro, and other nasty types of bacteria and biofilms, and seeing a multiple log reduction in bacteria counts. Now, in vitro is not inside the body, but I believe further testing will demonstrate similar results in vivo - treating inside the body.
Iulian: Indeed, these tests offer a lot of applications [for shockwaves] because the bacteria and the biofilms are at the base, the origin, of a lot of problems including chronic wounds and infections.
Iulian: How ambitious are you?
Mike: I think I'm ambitious. You don't take rather large financial risks, albeit well-calculated risks without being, you know, ambitious. But, I think the most important thing with bringing this vital technology to market is that if we are successful, then patients will have their wounds heal faster and fewer people will have lower limbs amputated. Because, in the end, when you get to be 80-years old and you look back on your life, being a part of a company that cured diabetic wounds and diabetic foot ulcers is a tremendous thing. It is a great way to spend your life. You know, it was great mark to leave, and that's what really motivates me.
Iulian: If you could, would call up anybody in the world and have a one-hour conversation, who would you call?
Mike: Wow. Dead or alive?
Iulian: Whoever it is easier for you.
Mike: So a one-hour conversation with anyone? John Lennon would be cool or Paul McCartney. Paul's alive. That'd be cool. Yeah! You can tell that I listened to the Beatles channel on the way over here.
Iulian: So, you are on the board of the Augusta Symphony, what composer would you want to speak with?
Mike: Mozart, if I was able to speak German, would be great.
Iulian: Okay. Fantastic. Which values are the most important to you in general?
Mike: Honestly, just doing what you say you're going to do is important. When people say they're going to do something, then they should. I appreciate people who are reliable and follow through.
Iulian: What is the most outrageous thing you want to achieve?
Mike: I think that the most outrageous thing to do would to be a disruptor in the wound care industry. That would be shocking, no pun intended, to be a disruptor in this enormous industry would be mind-blowing.
Iulian: Yeah, there is a lot of education and awareness needed about the shockwave technology, but once people understand it, they get enthusiastic. It is a lot of work to do if you want to accomplish this, but it is a great cause.
Mike: I still remember being on a ski slope in November of 2004 when I was made the President of the Orthopedic Division. Some peers of mine and I were going up the ski lift, and they were telling me about these doctors over in Europe, who were using shockwaves to treat diabetic foot ulcers, actually it was leg ulcers at the time, and that's what got me jazzed about this.
Iulian: Fantastic. Okay. Please share with us what are the two things you are most passionate about?
Mike: Passionate about? Spending time with my wife. I absolutely adore my wife.
Iulian: Okay. Great choice.
Mike: I also love tennis and travel. We went to Wimbledon this year and it was great to combine my love of tennis with my love of travel. My wife and I enjoy watching tennis at a professional level.
Iulian: What features make you to think someone will go on to be successful? You said before, that's somebody who has to be serious and follow up for whatever they say. What else?
Mike: I think a good, well-rounded education is the most important thing. Looking back at my education, it was very business-oriented, and I had no interest in anything outside of business courses. I wish I had had more of an experience in liberal arts because there are a lot of gaps that would have been easier for me to fill throughout my career, if I had a more well-rounded education. But as far as someone being successful, let's just consider what would have happened if Marshall Elkins [General Counsel at Integrated Health Services] didn't want to keep me on as a temp in the Legal Department, then I am almost certain that I would not be here today. My point is that all you can do is to attempt to prepare yourself for whatever comes at you in life. But as you know, it is not as easy as telling someone just do “a, b, c, d, and e” and then, okay, great, you're going to be a multimillionaire, successful and you're going to have a happy life. It's a bit of crapshoot. All you can really do is to help yourself by preparing, but as we all know, there are no guarantees in life.
Iulian: Which is your favorite piece of technology that you use?
Mike: Probably my iPhone, just because I use it all the time. It's totally changed the world. But also, the ability now for me to be anywhere. I could be in Paris or London, and I can do what I do at home on the computer. I don't have to be in the office anymore. I can just take it with me, and I can go anywhere. That's huge. It's really this technology working for us and giving us freedom.
Iulian: It really was a game changer. I mean, when you think about it. If we forget our cell phone at home, it's like we left one arm or something. Before you didn't have that. You had to wait until you reached somewhere to call using a landline and stuff like that. But it's a blessing and also a lot of other things, right? Everybody can reach you everywhere.
Mike: Yeah, that's right. I can bug you 24/7 now.
Iulian: What sports do you like to watch?
Mike: Tennis. Yeah that's the main one. I mean golf's alright, but I really like tennis.
Iulian: Okay. Now I know that you're living in Augusta, Georgia. I would like to ask you, what impresses you the most about the Masters tournament?
Mike: The golf course is immaculate. It is beautiful. It’s almost like walking into a fairy tale. The thing people at home don't realize, from watching on TV, is just how hilly the course is for every shot. Also, the community has a fantastic relationship with the Masters and it is great seeing all of our neighbors come together around this golfing major event every year.
Iulian: Well that's it.
Mike: That's it.
Iulian: Thank you very much, Mike.
Iulian: It was interesting to find out some of the insights of your life.
Iulian: Thank you.
Keywords: wound care, diabetic foot ulcers, DFU, shockwave therapy, amputation prevention, dermaPACE, chronic wounds, Stolarski, Premier Shockwave