Invention Stories | Julie Hyde Edwards -
Julie Hyde Edwards is the inventor of re-Contour™, a type of surgical dressing aimed at helping women return to a semblance of normalcy following a mastectomy. With the help of Innovate3D and Kenan Wollborg, an Innovate3D invention engineer experienced with medical prosthetics,
re-Contour™ was able to progress quickly. Innovate3D also helped Julie identify a Detroit-area medical manufacturer interested in bringing the re-Contour™ to market.
The Basics of the Invention
re-Contour™ is a type of surgical dressing that improves the aesthetic look of the breast and nipple, avoids flattening and encourages healing after a mastectomy.
In terms of medical device classification, re-Contour™ is in the lowest class. A re-Contour™ dressing is designed to cover the breast mound, with no contact on the nipple area – providing a safe space around the newly created nipple and preventing clothes from pressurizing the area.
The image on the left shows a SolidWorks solid model of re-Contour™ and a polymer rapid prototype.
The Inspiration Behind the Invention
In January 2008, July Hyde Edwards was told she had breast cancer. As she went through a mastectomy followed by a series of reconstructive surgeries, she channeled her energy into getting back to normal, of which a large part meant looking like she did before. As a practicing graphic designer, aesthetics mattered. And as woman, Julie was well aware of how looks affected her appreciation, her sense of well-being and acceptance.
Not one to be resigned to her fate or rely entirely on what surgeons told her, Julie did a great deal of research on the breast reconstruction process. Complete breast reconstruction includes recreating the breast mound as well as the nipple and areola complex (NAC). It is a multiple-surgery process. Nipple reconstruction is often considered to be the final stage.
Julie’s research had prepared her for short-lived success following her NAC reconstruction surgery. Usually, initial results tend to be positive, but after a matter of weeks, the new nipple would typically flatten out. Also, the scarring that follows the mastectomy was a huge issue. According to Julie,
The typical dressing that most women are presented with after nipple reconstruction surgery is reminiscent of Madonna’s bra on The Blonde Ambition tour! I understand it is a functional dressing, but it is hardly discreet and I felt it drew unwanted attention to me at one of the most vulnerable times in my life.
Julie struggled to accept the prescribed dressing after her NAC surgery completed. Wishing to wear a summer dress to a party in the elevated temperatures, the dressing supplied was wholly inappropriate. Julie was determined to fashion her own – one that would protect her surgeon’s work, her own dignity and also work on the scarring at the same time. She had found that medical grade silicone was recognized for its healing properties and helped reduce scarring. This was Julie’s starting point. In her basement, Julie played around with some silicone sheeting, layering it and trying out a few different designs. This was to be the genesis of re-Contour™.
The Invention Process, Concept to Finish
Having created two dressings for her own personal use, and reassured by the results, Julie wore one of the dressings for an appointment with her surgeon. He was very impressed with the product and with the results. Julie acknowledges her surgeon with providing the encouragement and support for developing the product further, knowing it could help so many other women.
As a professional in the creative design field, Julie admits to being totally out of her depth when it came to the practicalities of the product development process. She knew that she needed a prototype, but beyond that, her knowledge was limited. There were also a lot of resources for her to consider in Detroit - too many - and she made a couple of expensive mistakes with prototyping companies that never really 'got' her design idea.
However, Julie refused to give up, and an inventor workshop that she attended late in 2011 led her to Innovate3D. The event was conducted by Kenan Wollborg, then an Invention Engineer at Innovate3D (now CEO), and a meeting was arranged to evaluate Julie's project. She was amazed to find out that Kenan is very experienced with medical prosthetics, and that he has great knowledge of medical materials for such products.
Innovate3D took Julie’s basic 3D CAD model, developed it, and used SolidWorks to make modifications for future development. Julie credits Kenan Wollborg with the quick and successful progression of re-Contour™:
Kenan’s knowledge and product engineering capabilities have been invaluable for me. Innovate3D has been so supportive — they put the training wheels on my project. They understand that I am driving, but they stop me from falling over.
As a step in the process of getting re-Contour™ from concept to finished product, Innovate3D also helped Julie to identify a local (Detroit-area) medical manufacturer interested in bringing re-Contour™ to market. Julie’s surgeon is also on board with the product and is currently working on preparation for the study he will be conducting with other patients.
The patent case for reContour™ is still ongoing; however, Julie is hoping the process will be expedited by the recent opening the US Patent and Trademark Office satellite center in Detroit, the first office outside of Washington, DC.
The Future of the Invention
For many women undergoing surgery for breast cancer, one of the hardest things to deal with is a lack of control. For Julie Hyde Edwards, claiming some control back was essential to her recovery. The result is the re-Contour™. As it heads into production, Julie’s states her greatest hope:
This device allows women to be not so passive about their surgical results. It gave me a sense of power over my situation and by making re-Contour™ available to other women, my aim is to give them the same opportunity of empowerment.