Nebraska Native’s Invention “Just Right” to Save Lives
January 8th, 2016
BobbiSue McCollum is from Nebraska, but works as an emergency room nurse in Portland, Oregon. She also invented a device that could have the potential to save countless lives all over the world
Every couple of years, nurses are supposed take classes to learn the latest medical techniques. In 2013, BobbiSue McCollum was taking an advanced cardiac life support class. The focus of the lesson: resuscitation techniques.
“That whole day, they emphasized all of the problems that were happening when we were ventilating patients with bag valve masks,” McCollum said.
Bag valve masks, or BVM’s, are those football-shaped plastic bags used to pump air into a person’s lungs when they can’t breathe on their own. If you’ve spent any time at all watching medical shows on TV like House M.D. or Grey’s Anatomy, you’ve probably seen a BVM in use.
McCollum said BVM’s are also very easy to misuse. An average sized person in cardiac arrest should get one breath every six seconds. In the ER, however, where seconds feel like minutes and lives are on the line, McCollum said improper BVM use is leading to patients being over-ventilated. She said it happens about 85 percent of the time.
“You think you’re doing the right thing because you’re giving someone air,” McCollum said, “but actually it turns out that you’re giving them too much air. It’s called ‘stacking breaths’. So you’re no longer allowing that person to exhale, and their lungs just keep getting bigger and bigger and begin to compress the heart down. So the heart can’t fill with blood anymore.”
McCollum said no patient should die simply because they received too much air, so she began devising a new type of bag valve mask; one that could control how much and how fast air is administered automatically.
Last August, she made her first prototype. It is basically just a standard BVM with an altered valve. But it allows medical providers to quickly and easily give patients the air they need at the American Heart Association’s recommended respiratory rate. In other words-just the right amount of air. Not too much. Not too little. McCollum calls her invention the “Goldilocks Valve.”
“Why it’s not already invented is something I’ve been asked lots of times, and I don’t have a good answer,” McCollum said, “but it’s not. So here I am, a regular person, trying to fund this invention that has to go through development. It has to go to the FDA, and then I have to get it to market.”
McCollum is picking up extra shifts in the ER to cover the cost of development, and has a social media campaign to raise funds as well. If she raises enough money, about $250,000, McCollum plans to develop a pediatric goldilocks valve.
It’s not entirely clear how many lives the goldilocks valve could potentially save, because as McCollum pointed out, the patients who would need it are typically already in cardiac arrest. Also, it’s not exactly ethical to stop someone’s heart to test out the goldilocks valve.
McCollum said animal testing, however, proves proper ventilation saves lives. She cited one study where researchers put 14 pigs—which are biologically similar to humans—into cardiac arrest. Half of the pigs were given the right number of breaths, half were given too many.
“Of the first group that got the appropriate rate, six out of seven lived,” McCollum said, “and of the second group, only one out of seven lived.”
McCollum said pigs aren’t people, but results like that speak for themselves.