Shawn Sisco never thought of herself as an inventor, and she certainly never expected to invent a medical device without any medical experience or a college degree.
But that’s exactly what she did, using a one-dollar tube of lotion.
Today, her medical device invention, a urinary catheter support, is in the final stages of development at the University of Minnesota, and will be making its way to market soon.
It sounds like an inventor’s fairy tale, and while it has a happy ending, the starting point was anything but pretty.
Shawn’s husband had prostate surgery and later found himself at home with a Foley catheter installed. While catheterization is commonly regarded as less than pleasant, Shawn’s husband was experiencing more discomfort than necessary.
It was discovered that the catheter tube had started to erode his skin. The tube was torquing and had created a one-inch incision that grew larger each time he moved. He was in pain, and that, in turn, pained Shawn.
It was New Year’s Day. Shawn had been forced to bring her husband home from the nursing home where he’d been transferred for short-term rehab after his hospital stay. Their insurance had just run out.
At home, he was confined to his bed in agony, afraid to move and further tear his skin.
While her husband’s situation wasn’t unheard-of, Shawn was shocked to learn that there was nothing on the market designed to address his problem. A thorough Google search turned up nothing.
Unwilling to watch her husband suffer, Shawn was determined to find a solution. Most stores were closed due to the holiday, so she knew that solution would have to come from inside her home.
And it did, in the form of a plastic tube of lotion from the dollar store. After emptying the tube, cutting it, and applying it to her husband’s body with some medical tape, he experienced instant and profound relief. He was able to move around the house with a walker in relative comfort.
A shiver went up Shawn’s spine. She knew she was onto something.
She started to think about getting a patent on her idea. She went to Google and typed in, “medical patent attorney,” which led her to The Patent Professor®, John Rizvi. Due to the sensitive nature of her invention, Shawn wanted to work with a patent attorney whose personality made her feel at ease. John Rizvi immediately won her over.
Once a patent application had been filed for Shawn’s invention, giving it “patent pending” status, she knew it was safe to begin sharing her idea with others. She didn’t know where to begin the journey of bringing her invention to the wider world, so she followed common sense.
She called several catheter manufacturers, but none of them were interested in her idea. So, what next?
Her prayer for guidance was answered. The thought came to her: the University of Minnesota was practically in her back yard.
Shawn went back to her computer, typed in “University of Minnesota medical device,” and was led immediately to a program in which the university mentored its mechanical and biomedical engineering students in developing medical devices. They were looking for products to develop.
Out of 40 individuals who applied to have their ideas developed through the program, Shawn was one of seven whose invention was accepted.
Shawn’s urinary catheter support is now in its final stages of development, and will soon be available to bring relief to others like her husband. It’s been an exciting and gratifying journey.
If you’re trying to invent a way to solve a problem, Shawn has advice for you. “Take the time to test (your idea) thoroughly, and become convinced that you have a real answer to a genuine problem,” she says. “That confidence cannot waiver, even if you have to walk through some deep water like I did, having to talk face-to-face with many gentlemen about such a personal product.”
Shawn didn’t allow embarrassment to stop her, nor the fact that she had no experience or education in medicine or engineering.
“We don’t have to be an expert in all things,” Shawn emphasizes. “I knew I had an important product. I had the faith to realize that if this device could go forward and help mankind alleviate pain and avoid injury, I would find the help I needed. And I did.”