A ventilator is a precious medical tool that can do important, lifesaving work for a person with compromised lung function. As such, they typically cost an arm and a leg.
Calgary ICU doctor Steven Roy, who went to high school in St. Albert, knows a problem needing a solution when he sees one. When the pandemic came around and more people were needing ventilators, he noticed a glaring discrepancy. There simply weren’t enough available.
“The U.S. had thousands of ventilators that were not usable at the beginning of the pandemic. They had not been maintained and they were in storage. Unless a ventilator is exactly where it's needed when it's needed, and it’s working – in service – then it's not there, even if you paid for it,” he said.
The Roy solution: differential multi-ventilation effected through the utilization of the Valence InVent Xtend. His invention turns one ventilator into four through materials found at the local hardware store. It works to save more lives and with more cost efficiency.
“Our device, I think, is still useful for hospitals to have on hand, and stocking a hospital with 100 of our devices is around $5,000. That's a pretty easy cost to swallow compared to even buying a single ventilator.”
A typical ventilator costs upward of $60,000 and serves one patient. The Valence InVent Xtend costs $50 and allows that ventilator to serve up to four patients. The Paul Kane grad was still in high school when he won gold for graphic design in the Skills Competition, proving he knows how to do things right and do things better than before, too.
His craftiness and his ingenuity were indeed the key. He originally joined an online international work group determined to resolve the perplexing conundrum, but the group soon outgrew itself with too many avenues of research.
"It wasn't really advancing any one device or solution. In fact, many of the solutions that came out I still think are not suitable for human use," he said. "But in their attempts to solve the problem of not having enough ventilators, and how can you split a ventilator safely, with the group, we worked on some components that were needed for this.
"Unless you'd think hard and deep about how a ventilator works, you wouldn't think to add an extra piece from the pieces that we had already been putting together. I realized that adding that piece would actually solve many of our problems. And when I built it, I realized that it actually solved almost all of the problems," said Dr. Roy.
"Basically, I figured out a solution, and I published it with a few other people who were in my smaller subgroup about how to build this adapter for a ventilator out of parts that you would buy at the hardware store. That would allow countries all over the world to use the solution if they needed it."
Dr. Roy even used his background in graphic design and computer programming to help commercialize it and further its possibilities for use around the world.
"The programming part of me feels really strongly that things have to be easy to use and make sense and be intuitive. I studied neuroscience. My definition of 'intuitive' is very particular, too," said Dr. Roy.
"I needed to make the device so that people could use it and be able to assemble it safely for it to be safe, not just that the device is safe when assembled properly, but that it can be easily assembled properly. And that it'd be intuitive to use so that when someone is sick and you're anxious or working and tired that you're going to be able to run it."
This patented device is still waiting for approval from Health Canada, but one community has already given its approval.
The international design community has already bestowed upon Dr. Roy a Red Dot Design Award for the new product. While he is finishing his sub-specialization in critical care in Calgary, he has his startup side business Convergence Medical Sciences to further promote and sell the device around the world.
In its recognition, Red Dot noted how the multiplexing ventilator system, with its pictograms, and colour-coded valve closure caps, makes for good, strong design, and “offers a solution for crisis situations where there is an acute shortage of ventilators.” Its compact size and low unit weight also make for convenient storage and rapid deployment. It also requires no maintenance, making it an overall game-changer for respiratory care.