Prototype Online: Inventive Voices

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

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Paul: Phil Rogone, Sharon's husband and business partner:

Phil Rogone: What we see is all these situations occurring in NICU, and nobody's doing anything about it, because we're only talking about a population of 400,000, maximum, across the country. Approximately 400,000 babies a year go into the NICU. For a big company like Pamper's, 400,000 is not even enough to think about. It's just not. It doesn't make any sense to make something.

So all these companies that were making things for the NICU in the early days in the '90s were taking large products and making them smaller, thinking, "OK, we'll go from large to small. That will work just fine." But it doesn't, because they're not the same. Babies are not the same.

That's why Sharon's products are amazing, because she looks at what the situation is with the infant and carefully deducts what's going to work without thinking about what's out there. She just takes a look at what the baby needs.

Sharon: The nurses, when you're working in the unit, you find that there's a shortage of everything that you ever wanted or needed for these babies, because it was such a new area of medicine. When I first started working in that area, we did things like cut black construction paper in the shape of a little mask and used cotton balls to cover their eyes. And stocking net to make a little beanie to hold the mask in place when they went under phototherapy. Or, you used a tongue blade and covered it with a four by four and used that for an armboard, or rolled the blankets to position your babies. Whatever you needed to do, you had to make up for yourself, because there weren't products out there.

Then, as time went on, things started showing up that were very inadequate because the big companies put together things, modified adult products to use for the babies, and they were very inadequate. That's how I came up with my mask. I started making them for myself to use in the unit, and nurses would say, "Could you make me one of those?"

Then I started trying to get some of the big companies to make my mask. I made myself some waivers and non-disclaimer forms and sent off to several of the bigger companies to see if they wouldn't like to produce a mask that would work, rather than the ones that were out there.

I got letters back from them that said, "Just turn over your idea to us. If we decide to use it, we'll let you know and then we'll talk about compensation." Or, "We'll pay you one quarter of one percent of the net-net profit." Different -- ridiculous, as far as I was concerned — offers.

So I was just doing nothing with it, when a sales rep that I was talking to, who was demoing a product at the hospital, said, "Why don't you just do it yourself? Why don't you just have it made?" I was like, "I wouldn't know where to go."

He said, "I have a lot of connections in LA. Why don't we see if we can get it made?" So we shook hands and got it made. Then we started putting them in Ziploc bags — not Ziploc, because they didn't even have Ziploc bags yet! Plastic bags, with a little flyer and a sample and how to contact us. I carried a beeper and an 800 number and they would call the 800 number and it would beep me. Then I would call them back and take an order and put it in at night and ship it off in the morning.


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