Prototype Online: Inventive Voices- page 4 | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Prototype Online: Inventive Voices

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

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(Continued from page 3)

We slowly, slowly started growing the business with just the Bili-Bonnet. It went to three sizes, then I got a distributor up in the Northwest, then I got a distributor on the East Coast. Gradually, I got maybe five distributors and the Bili-Bonnet was selling pretty good. Then I decided to come out with some of my other ideas that I had.

But the Bili-Bonnet itself has gone through metamorphosis as time has gone on. It's changed from just a flat piece of material to a molded piece of material that takes the pressure off the ocular socket and puts the pressure around the browbone and the cheekbone. The bonnet part is basically the same; the velcro's changed. The shape of the velcro's changed to take any sharp corners off. Just little things that we've done to improve it over the years.

Judy Chelnick: Before we go on, if you could take just a few minutes to explain what the Bili-Bonnet is for? Maybe to explain bilirubin.

Sharon: OK. When babies are born, in the birthing process, they take on a lot of extra red blood cells a lot of times, through the umbilical cord or whatever. Because their livers are still immature, they cannot get rid of the waste product that comes from the breaking down of those red blood cells, because red blood cells die every three days. We make new red blood cells and red blood cells die off. So at about three days of life, the bilirubin level has reached a peak level. And the liver can't get rid of it. And if you get a high bilirubin level, it can cause brain damage—kernicterus.

And by putting a baby under phototherapy lights, the phototherapy changes the chemical chain of the bilirubin just  slightly, like you've seen sugar chains, and how they show you fructose and sugar and glucose and dextrose. Well, it changes the bilirubin chain just slightly so that the bilirubin can now be excreted through the bowel and through the kidney, and so that the baby can get rid of it in a different way, not just through the liver.

And when they go under these bright lights, they need protection for their eyes from this bright light. And that's what the Bili-Bonnet is. It's a mask that protects their eyes from the bright light while they're undergoing this therapy.

Paul: Once again, Ken Croteau.

Ken: You know, I've been in the NICU for a long time. And so, when Sharon sat down, she said, "Well, we have a problem. Here's what the problem is. The phototherapy masks that are out there, they don't fit. They go down. They occlude the nose. They don't work right. And I developed this mask. And this is what I did. And it's really helpful to my babies."

And I was just amazed that she came up with this great idea using burn nit material that we use in the emergency room for burns and other areas of the hospital. And she made a bonnet out of it. And she put it on the babies. I told her I think that's the coolest thing I've ever seen. I didn't see it at the hospital where I worked. And I brought samples there right after. You guy's have got to try this. And I just thought that her idea was great.

And that was the only product they had. They didn't have any other products at that time, just the Bili-Bonnet. And I thought it was a great idea. Being an advocate for babies in the NICU, I looked at that and thought I should have had a V8. Why does anyone else think about this?

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