Prototype Online: Inventive Voices

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

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Small Beginnings is no longer run at her home. It's a small company with about a half-dozen employees with distributors and warehouses across the country. The company has been a success and has held its own against large medical companies that unsurprisingly want a piece of the action. Clearly, Small Beginnings has blossomed from its very own small beginnings.

In this podcast, we'll focus on the story of Sharon Rogone's first invention- the Bili Bonnet - and explore her motivation to create the device. In addition to Sharon, we'll hear from her husband and business partner Phil Rogone, who has worked as a respiratory therapist and physician's assistant and Ken Croteau, her other business partner and a respiratory therapist that specializes in prenatal care.

Sharon, Phil and Ken were interviewed on January 17th and 18th of 2007 by Lemelson Center historian Maggie Dennis and Smithsonian curator Judy Chelnik.

Sharon Rogone: The developmental care that my products address... that was when we first started with these little tiny, floppy babies. We took care of them. We were just so concerned about just keeping them alive. They would lay on these flat, firm surfaces with no muscle tones. So that they would be in a frog-like flopped open position if they were on their back or on their stomach rather than nestled in a fetal position like they would be if they were in the womb, which is the way they're supposed to be.

We didn't even think about that because we were so focused on just keeping them breathing and their heart beating. And then as more and more of these babies started to survive and they would go home, we would see the flat heads from being laid side to side. The physical and occupational therapy that they would have to go through to bring their little arms and legs back to the midline so that they could do the normal developmental things that babies do - like put their fingers in their mouth. When they begin to walk, they would walk spread-legged because their legs had been spread apart.

All these developmental issues now were brought in to focus and developmental care was introduced but not practiced. Because the hospitals could not to afford to practice it and the companies out there were not making products that could be reused and reused over and over on these babies. So that they were not...

I mean, nurses tried, but they didn't have the right equipment to do it. My products are trying to meet that needs so that they can use them to do more of these developmental care and get these babies back to that fetal position of comfort which relieves stress and help them go home sooner. There's a lot for them other than just the occupational and physical therapy that they don't have to have after they go home. It shortens their hospital stay because they are nurtured. They're not just cared for. They're nurtured like they were in the womb.

Paul: Ken Croteau, business partner at Small Beginnings.

Ken Croteau: We went from babies that we couldn't save – that were merely five pounds to today where we have babies that are one pound. And now the trick is how do you get a one-pound baby, save it and have it come neurologically intact? Part of the neurological problem isn't just blood flow that's causing the bleeds or hyperized molar solutions that we use today. It's also a matter of keeping the baby's blood pressure low. If the baby is stressed, then it's not going to have low blood pressure.

So developmental care helps you to create an atmosphere to de-stress that infant. It's really a very important part of the baby's recovery. The NICU is a hostile environment, and unless there's a reason for that baby to leave the uterus because it becomes hostile, that's the best place for the baby. When it can't be there, then we have to create a nurturing environment for it. Those are a lot of changes over 37 years.


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