Innovating Products for a Pandemic
We recently sat down with Give Oxygen Co-Founder, Chris Higgins, to discuss innovating products for a pandemic. In these times, certain people rise to the occasion. Many in the product world have quickly adapted to meet the current needs and we’re honored to share some of their stories with you in our Product Talk podcast series on “The Role of Product in a Pandemic.”
At a time when there is so much uncertainty in the world, it’s been heartwarming to see people innovating products to help during this pandemic. Give Oxygen Co-Founders Chris and Lyndell Higgins took Chris’ experience with respiratory issues and designed a Backup Emergency Ventilator Substitute (BEVS) that is open-sourced and can be made by makers anywhere and then paired with places and people in need. You can listen to the full episode of Product Talk or read the highlights below:
On why innovating products for a pandemic was a personal mission
The desire to join this fight and begin innovating products for a pandemic came from a place of understanding what it feels like to have difficulty breathing.
“COVID popped up and we learned that it was a virus targeting the respiratory system. I’ve had a lot of issues in my past dealing with asthma. I’ve had pneumonia. I actually had a few lung collapses in 2018 and 2019. My surgery was actually just a year ago. And I will say I’m only 34 years old. So, it was pretty weird. Doctors really don’t know why it happened. It just happened. And I had to deal with it.
So when this COVID situation popped up just the ambiguity around that issue in our lives, we needed to prep. We said, well, we’re obviously seeing these ventilator issues. We’re obviously seeing that you might go to the hospital, but you might not be able to get a ventilator. They might just be fully taken.”
On the inspiration for Give Oxygen
Who would have thought that those hours put into watching medical dramas would pay off?
“My wife actually dove in and did the innovation on this one. She figured, ‘what about the crash cart? What about those shows?’ We’ve seen those movies where the paramedic or doctor or nurse grabs an Ambu bag. One of those bags and puts it over your mouth breathes for you.
We said if it came down to it, we could just have the line of people literally pumping air into my lungs if I was out cold and needed someone to breathe for me if there was no ventilator. There’s some naivete around that idea.
Then about a week into the COVID crisis, maybe around the 25th of March, 2020. We saw this Spanish project that did the same thing with an empty bag but used a motor. Essentially, rather than having a paramedic, doctor, or nurse, use this, you know, temporary life-saving device or potentially my family, if I was hard up in a hospital bed and there were no ventilators. There was this idea.
An idea put out there and built into a prototype is just the first step of the process. So the next morning, I said, well, you know what I saw this project, but it’s really not ready for anyone to actually use. Just given my familiarity with the FDA process and medical devices, and even any certification in general, you, start to realize there’s no way that that product is actually going to make it into a life-saving situation. There are just too many regulations involved. There’s no one to coordinate that effort.
Innovating products for a pandemic requires some creative thinking
Being an experienced innovator and strategist helped Higgins get from the idea stage to a realized product.
“So I thought to myself, well, there are a couple of issues with that design. There are a couple of things we can do to simplify it. We have all these makers across the country. Given the numbers, if you utilize those makers and give them an opportunity by removing all the roadblocks in their path, they could be used as a last resort.
So we got hooked up with several organizations and we found that they had already said elderly people are going to start being pulled off and assigned DNR, which is Do Not Recessitate, which means they die. That’s it. The numbers coming down from the age at which they’re starting to do that. It’s starting to go south because the ventilators are going to be used for people that are younger. That’s just the reality of the situation. Nurses and doctors are having to make these decisions.
So we said, well, I know I would want a fighting chance. So let’s, get those roadblocks gone. Let’s coordinate the makers across the country and let’s get them the ability to deliver these products and get it through the system so that we can give people a fighting chance. That’s essentially where Give Oxygen came from and that’s what it is at the moment.”
New companies and existing ones alike have innovated to solve a need
We’ve already seen some areas face ventilator shortages. Product leaders the world over have begun innovating products in this time of need.
“Obviously, don’t do harm is the number one goal. We’re not looking to just say, ‘hey, everybody strap up this ventilator.’ You do have to go through the process to say this has been tested in these environments that prove that it works. We’re only using this in this Backup Emergency Ventilator Substitute situation. That’s the name of product, BEVS. On patients that literally will die otherwise, and it’s just to give them a fighting chance.
There is absolutely no idea to monetize this or to sell this to an actual organization. We’re trying to be a stop-gap. You know, people are trying to build these assets. Tesla’s got a ventilator jammed up and everybody’s got a ventilator now. But there will be a period of time. If this thing hits hard enough in certain places, that they just don’t have enough time to make those production-grade, medical-grade devices. So, just trying to give people a shot.”