Pair invents garment to combat bed sores

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 20, 2001

Nurse Lydia Gandy models the AutoNurse, a medical device invented by Dr. Henk Kuiper, left, and wound care nurse, Dan Ellis. The device is designed to prevent and treat wounds of immobility such as bed sores that occur when patients are bedridden for long periods.(The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[08/20/01] Pressure sores, commonly called bed sores, are difficult, but a Vicksburg team has invented a device that will help treat and, more importantly, prevent them.

Dan Ellis, a registered nurse who specialized in wound care, and Dr. Henk Kuiper, a general surgeon, began working on what’s been dubbed AutoNurse 2 1/2 years ago. It went on the market in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama two weeks ago today.

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“Pressure sores are caused when soft tissue is compressed between bone and a surface such as a bed or a chair,” Ellis said. Blood flow is cut off and, over time, an open wound results.

Vicksburg Convalescent Home has been using the AutoNurse devices on three or four patients for about a week and is still in the evaluation stage. A nursing supervisor said they are working well.

In addition to the health threat and pain, pressure sores are enormously expensive to treat, Ellis said.

“About $200 billion a year in the United States,” Ellis said. “That includes the cost of doctors’ visits, nurses’ visits, wound cleaning and litigation,” he said.

Kuiper said if you consider that $200 billion and divide it by 365 days in the year and the more than 500,000 patients admitted to hospitals every day, the result is $288.32 per patient per day to treat and prevent bed sores.

“Somebody has to cover that cost,” Kuiper said.

The traditional treatment or prevention is for a nurse or other person to roll the patient slightly to one side and hold the patient in that position with pillows. The patient’s position has to be changed again regularly, usually about every two hours, 24 hours a day.

Such a schedule is labor-intensive for hospitals and nursing homes and wearing on caregivers in a home setting.

There have been many devices developed over the years to perform the same function, but the problem has always been cost effectiveness and availability, Ellis said. The AutoNurse is designed to address both problems.

It consists of a vest-like garment that encloses a bladder made of medical grade polyurethane and a pair of leggings made of the same plastic material. The bladders are connected with a series of hoses to a control box.

The control box, which is actually assembled in Vicksburg, contains several air pumps, some valves, switches and relays and a central processing unit that controls the inflation and deflation of the bladders.

When in operation, Ellis said, the controller inflates the bladders on one side of the vest and leggings, rolling the patient slowly and gently to one side and maintains that position for a preset length of time. That side then slowly deflates and the other side inflates, rolling the patient in the opposite direction.

Kuiper said the company plans to sell the cloth garments and bladders and rent the control box. “Depending how well they are taken care of and laundered, it could cost as little as $10 per day per patient” for prevention, Kuiper said.

The vest is made of 65 percent polyester and 35 percent cotton so that it is easy to wash and comfortable. The bladders can be cleaned with antibacterial soap.