Harrisburg resident Sheila Ray knows seconds matter in a surgical emergency, which is why she created a device to make every one of those moments count.
Ray is a nurse anesthetist and a member of the state Board of Nursing since 2018.
For 30 years she’s been working in surgical galleries, surrounded by crisscrossing wires and tubes, each fulfilling a life-sustaining function. The rooms are crowded. During robotic surgery, the patient is sometimes obscured under large pieces of equipment. Yet, through all the people and monitors, Ray’s focus remains fixed on the patient’s breathing tube.
It’s vital for patients under anesthesia. If it becomes disconnected, she has mere minutes to re-insert the tube – an often complicated task that could mean stopping the surgery.
“If you can’t intubate a patient, you can’t protect their airway. That’s crucial,” Ray said. “It can mean the difference between someone having a positive and negative outcome.”
Enter the Soleria Safety Cylinder. Monitor wires and ventilator tubes fit into the cylinder, making them, Ray said, less likely to accidentally disconnect. The device can also be secured to an IV tower or the side of a bed to keep lines from getting tangled during surgery and transit.
With three patents under her name, and after 11 years of work, she’s entered it into the Create the Future Design Contest, where it was seventh in the voting in a field of more than 200 entrants on Sunday morning. Voting closes Friday.
The contest put on by Tech Briefs magazine has a grand prize of $20,000. The 2019 winner was a medical device that helps preserve organs needed for transplants and was designed by a corporate engineering team.
And most of the competition this year is from teams of engineers. Ray is the only single inventor entrant, she says, and the only entry from Missouri.
If she were to win, Ray said she would donate a portion of the winnings to the Missouri Association of Nurse Anesthetists and the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.
Winnings aside, Ray said she’s more hopeful the contest will give her product exposure. Creating a medical device from inception to production is expensive and time-consuming. That’s why Ray didn’t pursue international patents. They would have cost upwards of $100,000 – money Ray doesn’t have as an individual patent holder.
“I didn’t have a lot of funding, I mean, I had no funding,” Ray said.
Although she is an employee of University of Missouri Health Care, Ray wanted individual ownership of the patent, which means she couldn’t use any university resources.
To fund her endeavor, Ray has worked overtime over the course of a decade and even sold some of the white oak timber on her land to finance the legal and advertising aspects of the process. All of it has led to the final step – production.
She’s hoping that by participating in the competition, her device will catch the eye of a manufacturer, which will then kick start mass producing the Soleria Safety Cylinder.
As for an interested market, fellow nurse anesthetist Sallie Poepsel said she would use the product in her own practice. Poepsel has 27 years of experience and has seen firsthand the problem Ray’s device addresses.
“Oftentimes in surgery, especially in labor intensive surgery, we move patients,” Poepsel said. “There is always the possibility of disconnecting that tube from the circuit, so to speak, that connects it to the machine.”
But it’s not just surgeries where Ray’s invention could be useful, Poepsel said. Intensive care units are also frequent users of intubation tubes, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“Look at some of the news of ICUs of COVID patients – how many lines they use,” Poepsel said. “The only way to organize it is to have some sense of organization that can identify all this stuff.”
And if the lines are organized, nurses like Poepsel can find and address a problem quickly, potentially decreasing the risk of a negative outcome.