Smart Medical Technology Moves Patients
Darien business owners find their way from grief to innovation
Life has presented plenty of challenges to James and Sandra Patrick. Both grew up in the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago. They became parents as teens. And as an infant, their firstborn was diagnosed with a catastrophic kidney problem that would eventually take his life.
But their challenges also taught them to work hard, to think outside the box and to have faith. Their efforts are now bearing fruit as innovators in patient care and owners of an international business based in Darien – Smart Medical Technology Inc.
“Three months out of high school, Toby was born,” said Sandra. “We got married in August, and he was born in September.”
They were 17 years old. And at one week old, their baby showed signs of kidney problems. Surgery helped, but his condition required ongoing care and attention.
So James did whatever jobs he could to support his young family, from landscaping to working as an officer in the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. He also attended Roosevelt University, studying both music and business. “My child was my focus,” he said. “Providing for him and going to school.”
Sandra had always thought about becoming a nurse. When Toby was 5 years old, she went back to school to become a licensed practical nurse. She worked on and off, at Hinsdale Hospital and elsewhere. “Toby was hospitalized a lot,” she explained. “We tried to work it out where sometimes I worked, sometimes (James) worked.”
Time passed, and the Patrick family grew. But Toby got worse. When he was 16 years old, Sandra donated a kidney to him. He only lived six more months.
After Toby died, Sandra went to Joliet Junior College. She became a Registered Nurse in 1990, working in hospitals and at a home health agency.
From caring for their ill son to Sandra’s nursing career, the Patricks have experienced patient care from all sides. The exposure drove them to solve some of the problems that they’d seen.
In 1994, they established Patrick Healthcare, which provided durable medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, commodes and oxygen concentrators. A year later, they moved their business from Chicago to Darien and started Darien Home Healthcare. In 2000, they founded another business, Bari-Care, providing bariatric beds to local hospitals, including the University of Chicago.
By 2003, James realized that he needed to better control his manufacturing and protect his intellectual property, so the Patricks started Smart Medical Technologies, Inc.
James said, “I’d deliver a bed to the hospital and say, ‘Let me show you how the bed functions.’ They’d say, ‘Don’t worry about it because we don’t have enough people here to move the patient. We’ll move him in the morning.’ So I started looking at solutions.”
The solution was the LIFTAEM line of inflatable mats, an aero medical approach to moving patients. The mat is “log-rolled” under the patient and inflates in 7 seconds. The underside of the mat is divided into about 20 sections with small perforations strategically placed to create an air cushion. The air cushion moves the mat similar to the way a hover craft would float.
“In the coccyx and sacral areas, there are more perforations, where you need more lift,” James explained. “The color highlights any contamination, like from bodily fluids.”
“With the LIFTAEM mattress, you go from needing six to eight people to move a person, to just one person,” added Sandra. “And the second person is just there for safety. But you can actually do it by yourself.”
That mattress was the beginning of a line of products based on the same principles. The company now offers a LIFTAEM Morgue Bag and a LIFTAEM Emergency Medical Service Mat. Paramedics from Darien-Woodridge and Tri-State now use the products.
“This (EMS Mat) is actually being deployed by all the fire departments here that go into Good Sam and Edward Hospital,” said James. “And we have a pending agreement with the City of Chicago. The State of Illinois has passed ‘No-Lift Legislation’ which says that the hospitals and whoever is carrying these people who are non-ambulating (must have) the proper tools in order to minimize injuries from doing their jobs.”
The LIFTAEM products are designed not only to help move patients, but to keep them as comfortable as possible. The LIFTAEM Therapeutic Mat has large openings in the top that allow airflow beneath the patient.
LIFTAEM products have been introduced into hospitals across the U.S., as well as in India, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Locally, the Advocate hospitals, including Good Samaritan, as well as Trinity, Cook County Stroger and Edward Hospital, all use them. Dwight D. Eisenhower Military Hospital in Augusta, Georgia, which treats returning military veterans, has been using the products for several years, as does Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.
“A nurse in a hospital generally moves about two tons a day,” Sandra explained. “So many people get hurt. We would go through classes all the time about body mechanics and the proper way to lift and move. A lot of nurses are no longer in the (nursing) practice because it was just too much for the body. But the LIFTAEM just saves everything.”
Their life experiences have shown the Patricks the value of service. James is on the board of directors for the Walter Payton Liver Foundation at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is also on the board of the Provident Hospital Foundation and a member of the Chicago Economic Club, where he accepted the Innovator of the Year award in 2010. He has also participated on panels for the Chicago Urban League.
His son’s many trips to the hospital had cost James jobs along the way. Because of their experience, the Patricks testified before Congress on the Parental Leave Act. “Our testimonial was one of the keys for passage of President Clinton’s first bill (that) he signed into law as president,” said James.
As they plan for the future, the Patricks continue to look for ways to help the community. While their headquarters will remain in Darien, they are working on plans for a manufacturing and distribution center to be built on Chicago’s south side. They would like to offer internships to high school and college students as part of that plan.
“I look at the where the plant will be, in areas that will offer an alternative to some of the challenges,” James explained. “I believe that if people have an alternative to bring value to their lives, they wouldn’t do some of the silly and crazy things they do, because they appreciate life. I think that by us giving an alternative, to not only bring themselves up, but also to see (that) what they’re doing actually helps the world at large, it’ll change the landscape.
“A kick was a boost for us,” he continued. “When my son died, I could have taken two (paths). (I could have been) very bitter forever. (But) I look at challenges as motivating forces. Failure is not an option.”
Sandra added, “We always try to see what we can do for the next person.”
Smart Medical Technology Inc. is located at 8404 S. Wilmette Avenue, Suite B, in Darien. For more information, call 630-964-1689 or 800-605-9868, or go to www.smartmedtechnology.com.