Machine Design

Inventor's corner:Surgical dressing restores mastectomy patients’ figures

The re-Contour dressing from Julie Hyde Edwards targets women who want to look like they did before having a mastectomy. After her own surgery, Edwards struggled to accept the prescribed dressing. Breast reconstruction is a multiple surgery which involves rebuilding the breast mound as well as the nipple and areola complex. But reconstructions are usually short-lived. Initial results tend to be positive but after a matter of weeks, the new nipple typically flattens. Worse yet, the typical dressing that most women get is like Madonna’s bra on The Blonde Ambition tour where Madonna wore the now-infamous cone-shaped bra. Edwards knew the traditional dressing was functional, but felt it was highly indiscreet. And postsurgery scarring was a huge, unaddressed issue.

She became determined to invent a dressing that would protect the surgeon’s work, her own dignity, and also help reduce scarring. She discovered that medical-grade silicone has healing properties. She played around with silicone sheeting in her basement, layering it and trying out different designs. The designs became the basis of the re-Contour, a dressing that improves the aesthetic look of the breast and nipple, does not flatten, and encourages healing.

Edwards then made two dressings for her own use. Her surgeon was impressed with the product and encouraged her to continue to develop it. Eventually, she filed a provisional patent. This process was expedited by the recent opening, in her home city of Detroit, of the first U. S. Patent and Trademark Office center outside of Washington, D.C.

As a creative professional, Edwards admits to being totally out of her depth when it came to the practicalities of product development. She knew she needed a prototype, but beyond that, her knowledge was limited. As a result, she made a couple of expensive mistakes with prototyping companies that never really “got” her design.

Fortunately, an inventor’s workshop led her to Innovate3D, an invention service firm with an office in Dearborn, Mich., which has personnel experienced in medical prosthetics and medical materials. An invention engineer there took her basic 3D CAD model and modified it for future development. The firm also helped Julie identify a Detroit-area medical manufacturer interested in bringing the re-Contour to market.

In terms of medical-device classifications, the re-Contour is in the lowest class. The dressing covers the breast mound, with no contact on the nipple area — providing a safe space around the newly created nipple and preventing clothes from pressurizing the area. Julie describes the re-Contour as similar to the “chicken-fillet” breast enhancers some women use, but with protective functions and healing properties for scarring.

Edited by Leslie Gordon
[email protected]
Twitter @LeslieGordon

© 2012 Penton Media, Inc.

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