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Prototype Online: Inventive Voices

Sharon Rogone, a neonatal nurse-turned-inventor, talks about her first invention

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This interview is a transcript of a podcast from the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation. To Listen to this interview or any others from the Prototype Online Series, visit the Lemelson Center's website.

TRANSCRIPT: Podcast: Sharon Rogone invents for preemies (part 1) Sharon Rogone, a neonatal nurse-turned-inventor, talks about her first invention and why she started to invent.

"Prototype Online: Inventive Voices" is a production of the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center. Written and hosted by Paul Rosenthal. Audio production by Benjamin Bloom. Theme music by Will Eastman. Art Molella, executive producer. Sharon Rogone, Phil Rogone, and Ken Croteau were originally interviewed on 17 and 18 January 2007 by Lemelson Center historian Maggie Dennis and National Museum of American History curator Judy Chelnick. Podcast released 26 March 2007.

Paul Rosenthal: From the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, welcome to "Prototype Online: Inventive Voices," brought to you by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.

I'm Paul Rosenthal.

Late last month, a little baby girl named Amillia Taylor went home from a Miami Hospital and grabbed the headlines. Born on October 24, 2006, little Amillia is believed to be the youngest preemie ever to survive and go home from the hospital. She weighed just 10 ounces at birth. Skilled doctors and sophisticated life-saving technology are widely credited for making Amillia's amazing survival and the survival of other young preemies possible. But the story of improving care and technology in the neonatal intensive care unit or NICU does not start and end with the doctors and medical engineers.

Nurses work at the ground level. They toil long hours and provide meticulous round-the-clock care for these tiny babies that have to adapt to special situations. Then they need to be resourceful when materials are lacking. Nurses are inventive by necessity. Many of the improvements seen in the NICUs over the years have been driven by the daily experience of the nurses working there.

Our podcast today is about one of these neonatal nurses turned inventor. Her name is Sharon Rogone. And while you probably haven't heard of her, her inventions have helped to improve the care of the youngest of newborns. Working in the 1980s in NICUs in San Bernardino, California; she saw the need for basic, well-designed devices to help care for premature babies. Her first invention was the Bili Bonnet., a simple device that shields the baby's eyes from the dangerously bright lights used in phototherapy.

Premature babies often undergo phototherapy as a treatment for jaundice which is common among newborns. To block the lights, nurses had been using improvised devices made from black construction paper, cotton balls and other materials found in the NICU.

Sharon Rogone's Bili Bonnet was a drastic improvement. It's a simple low-tech invention that performs a vital medical function. The Bili Bonnet launched Rogone's career as an inventor and a business woman. In the mid 1990s, she started Small Beginnings, a company that she ran at her home. Her products now include specialized diapers, pacifiers, positioning devices and oral suction tools all designed to improve the care of preemies in the NICU and to lessen or prevent the medical problems once these babies leave the hospital.

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