Innovation Spotlight: Helping Hand

By Debbie Briner
From the October 2013 issue of Columbus CEO

A former nursing student developed a line of medical products to ease patients’ pain.

Borne of a distinct need she first noticed as a nurse’s aide and nursing school student—and that later became acutely personal—Victoria Langer set out to bring comfort to patients suffering from pressure wounds and bed sores.

Langer was determined to ease the pain of her husband, Larry, who was suffering from a rare form of thyroid cancer and 13 tumors that had metastasized along his spine.

She saw potential relief in foam. But it needed to offer sufficient support while distributing weight to prevent—and even help treat—pressure wounds. Just as important, it needed to bring comfort to patients whose limited mobility put them at risk.

“I just was really frustrated with proper positioning of patients,” Langer says. “It was a comfort issue as well, the love and the comfort that we can give to people who are in palliative care and dying.”

Her trial and error began with convoluted foam. “It has what I call very deep peaks and valleys,” Langer says. She experimented with different-sized towels to develop a special solid foam core that could conform to reduce pressure without losing its position or support, as a bed pillow might. “I tried a beach towel. That seemed to give it what it needed,” she says.

Next, Langer sought technical experience. “I was lucky enough that we had a foam fabricator in our community,” she says.

Her invention drew the attention of nurses and doctors. They began asking her to make pressure management foam products to aid their patients.

Langer, who had dropped out of nursing school to care for her husband before his death, soon found herself immersed in the world of product design and development and started her own company, Global Medical Foam, in 1991. “I had the clinical background but not the business background,” she says. “To say that I was going to be a salesperson, I would never have known that about me.

“A lot of times, people develop a product, they get it produced but then they either want to sell it off or they leave it as they made it. For me, the key was to diversify. [A colleague] told me not many people see it through manufacturing, through fabricating, through the patent process and then the process of meeting state and government regulations, the packaging, SKU numbers and putting it out to market,” Langer says.

Today, the company sells an extensive line of pressure management products, including mattress overlays, pressure redistribution mattresses, seat cushions and positioners. Its Conforming Comfort line of cushions and positioners is designed to reduce and redistribute pressure for the elderly or people who have medical conditions that keep them in one position for an extended time.

Four of the company’s Conforming Comfort products are patented, and three other products are patent-pending. Langer was a finalist in the Best Product category of the 2012 TechColumbus Innovation Awards.

The five-employee company subcontracts much of its work, but has made a big impression on many in the medical community. Customers include the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, the Cleveland Clinic and numerous long-term care, Alzheimer’s care, hospice facilities and rehabilitation centers.

Langer also devotes time to educating medical professionals about improved care for pressure wounds, including work with the Ohio Nurses Association. Her staff includes a physician and two registered nurses who assist with in-service training as well as product development.

Creating new products showcases her entrepreneurial side, Langer says. She is exploring a possible venture with a company that provides compression therapy for post-mastectomy patients dealing with lymphedema.

Global Medical Foam has applied for Ohio’s EDGE certification—a program Encouraging Diversity, Growth and Equity in public contracting—in an effort to potentially gain more state business, Langer says. The company already sells products to the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities and Ohio Department of Developmental Services.

Langer says she reflects daily on how rewarding her work is. “You never take it for granted. You become successful because you have a passion for what you do. I truly believe that.”

Debbie Briner is a freelance writer.