AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Scott Turner introduces a liquid food through a modified PEG line into the stomach of his wife, Janet Lenton. Turner, an inventor who has numerous patents, many for medical products, saw ways of improving the system that is installed in more than 100,000 patients annually.
"What a mess," thought Scott Turner of Palmerton as he cleaned up the spillage from his wife's feeding tube. That was the tipping point for the inventor whose wife had just come home from numerous visits to Lehigh Valley and Palmerton Hospitals.
His wife, Janet Lenton, had been treated for hand numbness, and following surgery on her cervical spine, had a series of complications, which included abdominal growths and the loss of her ability to swallow.
The Palmerton Hospital doctor installed a feeding tube into her stomach through her abdomen. Medicare provided the Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy (PEG) procedure that allowed her to connect to an external feeding tube system through a female "Y-shaped" Feeding Adapter.
Medicare also provided the Enteral Nutrition feeding bags, feeding pump and liquid food through a local medical supplier, Lincare of East Stroudsburg, who also sent a nurse to explain how to connect and operate the feeding system.
That first night, Lenton awoke, turned to her husband and said, "The bed is wet."
"The stem from the feeding bag and pump going into the 'Y-shaped' Feeding Adapters had come apart allowing the liquid food to spill onto the bed. At first, I blamed her for not putting it together right. So, after I cleaned everything up, I put it back together.
"An hour later, she woke me up," Turner continued. "It had come apart again."
The next morning, he called the surgeon and told him that the fittings leaked and must be defective. He asked for a replacement fitting.
"We don't dispense any loose fittings," the surgeon told him. "But if you come to the hospital, I'll give you one."
As the hospital only stocked the PEG system as a kit, the surgeon gave Turner an entire kit.
When Turner returned home, he compared the original female "Y-shaped" Feeding Adapter with the new adapter, and with the Medicare-provided male adapter stem. They were all different in design, were from different manufacturers, and their snap-together locking devices were incompatible. The feeding tube stem was by Ross-Abbott Laboratories, and the "Y-shaped" Feeding Adapter by Boston Scientific.
"I talked to several people that have PEG lines," Turner said, "and they all had the same problems, the connections came apart. They leaked and they are cumbersome. They come from several manufacturers. They have mismatched parts."
So Turner, having mismatched fittings and unable to buy fittings to correct the problem, said to himself, "If I can't buy it, then I'll make it."
After improving the "Y-shaped" Feeding Adapter, he began to notice additional problems with the PEG system.
One problem was, in order to make a connection to the PEG line, a squeeze valve had to be closed. Once, his wife forgot to close the valve and the liquid food squirted all over the bed.
Turner found a simple solution to eliminate that problem.
Now learning about the shortcomings of the PEG design, and realizing that in the U.S., surgeons install over 100,000 PEG systems annually, Turner, who has numerous patents - many for medical devices - decided that further research was warranted.
Taking an overview of the entire PEG and feeding tube system, Turner gave it a major reengineering.
He feels that his new design, for which he will be applying for patents, will be a major improvement to PEG feeding.
"I think it will be a major contribution to the safety of people on PEG line feeding, their feeling of security, and their freedom of movement," Turner said.
Asked how she feels about being the guinea pig for her husband's prototype PEG modifications, his wife said, "It's great. We were having a lot of accidents, spilling the liquid all over the place because it came apart. Now it doesn't come apart. It's great what my husband is doing. I like that."