Louisville is quickly becoming a hotbed for medical technology innovation.
Dechoker, an anti-choking device, was invented by Alan Carver, a sea captain. When he was going to get his 200-ton license renewed, he had to take a first-aid class, wherein they taught things like CPR and the Heimlich maneuver. When Carver asked his instructor what the next step would be if the Heimlich failed and he was 100 miles out to sea, the instructor told him frankly that the victim would die.
Carver decided that was unacceptable.
He researched the subject thoroughly and found that there was absolutely no other solution to choking besides the Heimlich maneuver. So he spent the past five years developing new technology to solve this problem.
The Dechoker is a device that essentially sucks an obstruction out of your throat. Christopher Kellogg, president of the company, said it’s so easy to use, a child could save the life of an adult, and a person living alone could save his own life by using it on himself.
There are a lot of people for whom the Heimlich maneuver is either impossible or dangerous. Often times, the Heimlich results in additional injury, like broken ribs to the choking victim. Size disparity can often impede the ability of a person to perform the life-saving tactic on another. People who are obese or pregnant are very hard to help as well.
Many people are also at higher risk of choking, including people with swallowing disorders, people with Cerebral Palsy and seniors with dementia.
There are 160,000 choking deaths worldwide annually.
“We want to eradicate choking deaths,” said Kellogg.
Choking victims typically have seven minutes until brain death. The Dechoker takes seconds to use. There is a mask that seals over the victim’s nose and mouth. A tube inside the mask depresses the tongue and goes a little way down the throat (not as far as the trachea, Kellogg said). The plunger pulls up like a syringe taking blood, and, hopefully, whatever is choking the victim pops out with the air pressure.
If the item is not dislodged, you can repeatedly pump the plunger. Air does not get forced down the victim’s throat; it escapes through a valve. Likewise, if it has sucked up any fluids, those also are discharged through a different valve.
Upon submitting the Dechoker to the Red Cross, Kellogg said they had to invent a category for their application because there wasn’t one for anti-choking devices. There is nothing like Dechoker on the market.
Dechoker won FDA approval around six months ago.
“Anyone can create a medical device,” said Kellogg, “that’s what the FDA is for.”
Carver met with a lot of doctors, engineers and FDA consultants before submitting the device for approval.
The Dechoker is priced at $149.96. Compare that to $2,000 defibrillators designed to save heart attack victims; those devices are now ubiquitous at malls and airports and other public spaces. Kellogg sees the initial markets being the aging care market, emergency responders, restaurants, cruise ships, childcare and schools — especially special education departments (Kellogg himself was a special education educator).
But the company is setting aside 1,000 units to give away for free, and there is an application on their website. If you or someone you love has a swallowing disorder or is otherwise medically at risk of choking, you can apply, and they may send you one for free. You can read some of the requests for donations at the link.
“Giving back to the community is a priority,” said Kellogg.
The company currently employs seven people, not including those who work at the North Carolina manufacturing plant that makes the devices and fills orders.
Dechoker has seen worldwide interest with calls coming in from as far away as Egypt and Japan, even though it has only been on the market four months.
But expect the Dechoker to stick around. The company headquarters is located in nearby Goshen, Ky., precisely because of the support the medtech community has here.
“Louisville has welcomed us with open arms,” said Kellogg. “Kentucky is a great place to do business.” Kellogg also said he got a lot of support from city agencies.
Dechoker comes in two sizes: child and adult.
If you’ve ever lived alone and saw the “Miranda choking” scene from “Sex in the City,” you’re probably thinking $149.96 is looking pretty good.