GENESEE COUNTY, Mich. — Larry Mark remembers the patient he lost during his last month working as an emergency medical technician for a Flint Township ambulance company in the spring of 2008.
“She’d gone into full cardiac arrest at home. We did CPR on her, and from the time she was found by (a family member) until the time we got a pulse back on her, it was almost an hour,” said Mark, 27, a 2000 Flushing High School graduate.
Ultimately, the woman did not survive, despite effective resuscitation.
“Even in the hospital, it’s the same way. You do the CPR and put the effort into it, but you know it’s not very often they get to walk out of the hospital at the end of the day,” said Mark. “It’s probably one of the hardest things you do.”
Now a business student at Michigan Technological University in Hancock, Mark hopes to increase the odds with a new cardiopulmonary resuscitation aid designed for use in hospital settings.
The CPR Mattress was developed by a group of Michigan Tech bioengineering students working with nearby Portage Health Hospital in Hancock.
The success rate of CPR in out-of-hospital settings is about 30 percent, even in the best of circumstances, according to the American Heart Association. Success rates are better for cardiac arrests that occur inside a hospital but are still only about 50 percent, said Jim Spence, cardiopulmonary director at Portage.
Administering CPR in a critical care setting is “controlled chaos,” said Spence.
“The patients are typically on multiple devices, with wires and tubes everywhere. Just trying to physically tip a patient up to slide a board behind them and lower the bed is a formidable task,” said Spence. “The simple act of moving them can become even more life-threatening. You dislodge an endotrach tube, it can get very ugly, very fast.”
The student testing found that the foam bed mattress, not the patient, was absorbing the majority of the chest compression.
“No matter how hard the rescuer was working, the mattress was taking a huge share of their effort,” said Mark.
In fact, the MTU researchers found that only 41 percent of the compression force was actually compressing the heart. Even adding a backboard between the patient and bed increased effectiveness to only 53 percent.
After a year of study, the senior design team built a solution: a hospital bed mattress that compresses within seconds to a rigid surface, increasing efficiency to 81 percent. They named it the CPRMattress.
“I think this has incredible potential. It’s not a terribly expensive piece of equipment, and it’s not mechanically complicated,” said Spence. “A backboard is simple, too, until you try to put it behind a 300-pound patient. With this, you just push a button.”
Because only the top half of the mattress deflates, it automatically lowers the chest and head relative to the legs, increasing blood volume to the heart and blood flow to the brain.
“The changes are probably small but when you’re doing CPR, every little bit counts. Time and blood are brain cells,” said Spence.
The school’s technology initiatives program is developing the product as an MTEC SmartZone enterprise project.
Mark came on board to help guide the student-run company through the regulatory maze for getting a new medical device to market. He’s now president and chief executive officder of the fledgling corporation.
With a patent pending, the group is now working on Food and Drug Administration approval and has hired an engineering company specializing in medical devices to make sure the final design meets rigid specifications.
So far, the group has received about $50,000 for research and development from the Michigan University Commercialization Initiative and is seeking grants to get the CPRMattress to market.
Meanwhile, Mark said he hopes to spark interest among hospitals throughout the state to demonstrate the product’s potential.
The students have been working 20 to 30 hours a week, paid only in shares of the company’s future profits. But it’s not just about money, Mark said.
“It’s called sweat equity. It shows we’re predicated to keep moving this forward,” said Mark.
“But to me, there’s no better feeling than to know we were able to build a product that could save more lives.”