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February 11, 2010

Colo. paramedic's invention clears throats of stroke, heart attack victims

By Michael Davidson
Daily Camera

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — As a paramedic for nearly 20 years, Jeff Rehman has tales about what happens when an emergency call takes a turn for the worse and results in the loss of life — or loss of a finger.

Like the time four or five years ago, when Rehman, who works for North Metro Fire Rescue District Station 61 in Broomfield, was trying to intubate a semi-conscious patient with a severe head injury. While Rehman was trying to keep the tube in place, the disoriented man bit down and took a chunk out of Rehman's finger.

Unpleasant incidents such as that are possible whenever medical workers have to reach into patients' throats to clear food, vomit or blood from airways before they can perform CPR.

Some of those injuries might be a thing of the past if a new medical device Rehman created catches on.

Rehman spent the past 31/2 years designing and refining an improved oropharyngeal evacuation tool. That's the technical name for a 10-inch bendable rubber tube that can vacuum and scoop material out of a patient's airway.

The tool is important because paramedics must clear the airway of a severely injured and possibly unconscious person before they can supply oxygen.

Rehman worked with his father-in-law to work out the engineering diagrams and build a prototype. But before it was shopped around to investors, it had to be tested. Rehman was the guinea pig.

"We mixed up Jell-O, cut-up fruit, bread; I don't remember what else was in there," said Charles Maxwell, a North Metro emergency medical technician who helped Rehman with the testing.

They did the test on the kitchen table of a North Metro fire station and videotaped it to show to potential investors.

Maxwell thinks the device is a big improvement over the rigid plastic tubes paramedics use to vacuum debris out of a patient's windpipe. The tubes clog and don't easily fit down the throat. They can't scoop out large chunks, which forces medics to toss them aside and rely on old-fashioned finger sweeps.

"It's amazing how much more effective Jeff's device is," Maxwell said.

Rehman shopped the idea to several large medical equipment manufacturers, but there wasn't much interest. Then he decided to "find a smaller company that is willing to listen to the foot soldiers, the people who work in the fields," he said.

Eventually SSCOR Inc. in Sun Valley, Calif., picked up the idea and renamed it the S-Scort S3. The company added its own refinements and worked up the strong, flexible plastic the tube needs to keep its shape. It has invested about $200,000 in the S3 and spent about $75,000 on the molds.

SSCOR is marketing the S3 to paramedics, emergency rooms and hospitals.

Rehman said the tubes will retail for about $5.50. He will get a small royalty for each one sold.

"I'll do OK, but I won't get rich," he said. "I get the edification of knowing something I created is out there and helping."

The device won't be a success until medics, nurses and doctors put it into regular use and trust it, but Rehman said he is confident. And one thing is certain.

"It's going to do a hell of a lot better than my finger did."

Copyright 2010 Daily Camera and Boulder Publishing, LLC

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