Moving an intensive care patient within a hospital often takes as many as six people. Soni Weiss, a 60-year-old Reston grandmother, has invented a device that cuts the number to one.
Many people -- and maybe you are one of them -- get an inspiration to create something so clever that it would lead people to say, "Why didn't I think of that?"
But few people pursue such ideas. Weiss did, and four years and $40,000 of her own money later, the first 50 devices rolled off an assembly line last month.
"I hear people all the time who have solutions to problems, but they won't go out and try to do something about it because they are afraid to fail," said Weiss, a respiratory therapist at Reston Hospital Center. "They are afraid of what other people think about them. They say, 'Oh, this is too simple.' And they don't have enough confidence to move ahead."
But she acknowledged that it takes certain character traits to take all the time and effort required to design, manufacture, patent and market an invention.
"It takes a lot of living or just sheer arrogance, one or the other, to go out and say, 'Okay, I'm going to risk failing,' " Weiss said.
Weiss invented a clamp that secures a patient's intravenous pumps, poles and other life-support equipment to beds, gurneys and wheelchairs. This in turn enables a single person instead of a team of medical staff to move a patient from place to place within a hospital.
Weiss had no trouble coming up with the idea.
"When you are in the intensive care unit and you have to make a field trip down to CAT scan or MRI and you've got somebody in the bed, it's not uncommon to have three IV poles, each with a double pump," she said. "You've got somebody pushing the bed, and you've got me bagging the patient if they are on a ventilator. It can take five or six people to move one patient.
"Just getting everyone coordinated is a pain. I have to sit around and wait while all these people get together."
Once a transport team is successfully assembled, Weiss said, there is still no guarantee of an incident-free trip. She described a worst-case scenario: "The pumps get unruly and occasionally you lose control of a pump, it falls down, then the IVs come out. The patient is unhappy because nobody ever likes to see their own blood."
After witnessing enough such debacles, Weiss said to herself that there had to be an easier way. Her frustration motivated Weiss to pursue the invention.
"Patience is a virtue. It is not one that I possess," she quipped.
So she began to design a clamp that could hold all of the IVs and life-support equipment. It is a serious-looking piece of metal. Forged of heavy-duty airplane-grade aluminum, with a titanium shaft, gleaming handgrips and a pair of what look like a modern version of medieval thumbscrews, the clamp was dubbed the Dual 360.
The process of bringing it to life was not easy. After some initial and unworkable design attempts, Weiss said she came to a conclusion.
"I was trying to make things that were too sophisticated," she said. "I realized I needed to do something that was very, very simple."
The first version of the clamp was made from a couple of common C-clamps. A co-worker at Reston Hospital Center had Weiss contact a machinist who put the prototype together. Practical testing with other various pieces of medical equipment brought the improvements to that initial design that allowed Weiss to patent the device.
The Dual 360's simplicity belies its usefulness. Essentially it is two clamps connected by a rod that allows the clamps to expand and lock at a variety of widths.
Weiss has formed Auggie Co., named for a favorite "strong and gentle dependable dog," to manufacture and distribute the Dual 360, which has a suggested retail price of $300. Her next step, now that she has the first lot of clamps in hand, is to send them to a nationwide network of friends in the nursing profession. She hopes that word of mouth can aid her direct-mail marketing effort to the nation's almost 6,000 hospitals.
"Every time somebody picks it up and uses it, they love it," she said.
But if the clamp flops, Weiss said it would not be devastating.
"If I'm not successful with this, it's not going to hurt my self-image. I know who I am. I can afford emotionally to take that hit if that were to come," she said.
But what about the $40,000 she invested for the research, development, marketing and manufacturing, as well as patent application and lawyers' fees?
"If I make money, that's terrific," Weiss replied. "If I break even, that's okay, too. It doesn't make any difference anymore. There is a wonderful sense of satisfaction knowing that I've done this. I've always known that this is something that needed to be done. I did this because I knew how much easier it would make everybody else's lives."
Profit was never her motivation anyway, Weiss said.
"It was not my intention to make money off of it, really. I just got tired of falling over the damned poles."