An Ottawa respiratory therapist traded in hospital outfits for casual clothes after demand was made for his invention that makes it safer to transport patients on ventilators and switch them to other devices that have skyrocketed during the pandemic.
Frank Fiorenza originally got the idea for his product – nicknamed Flusso, which means “flow of fluid” in Italian – years ago while working as a respiratory therapist at the Ottawa Hospital.
Fiorenza realized that air expelled from patients’ lungs as they were transferred from mechanical ventilators to smaller transport ventilators or resuscitation bags could potentially expose healthcare workers to aerosol particles. infectious.
Thinking there had to be a better way, he started drawing designs for a small plastic tube-like insert that would seal the flow of oxygen and keep patients’ lungs swollen during such maneuvers.
“It was just more of a fun project, if you will,” says Fiorenza.
After bringing the concept to life, the Algonquin College graduate produced a prototype on a 3D printer in his basement and tested it on a used ventilator he bought from CHEO.
Five years ago, he licensed the product to McArthur Medical Sales, an Ontario supplier of specialty healthcare devices, and joined the company as head of product development.
Flusso officially hit the market in 2018. Over the next two years, it was adopted in around 40 Canadian hospitals.
Then came March 2020. As the novel coronavirus suddenly spread like wildfire across North America, Fiorenza’s phone started ringing, health administrators realized they had to take all possible precautions to protect workers against infection.
“When COVID hit, demand for Flusso exploded,” he says. “Within 48 hours, we received orders from approximately 130 hospitals in Canada and three dozen in the United States. It basically broke the system. We couldn’t keep up.
Fiorenza says his device, which costs around $ 20 a unit, has two main benefits that make it a key tool in the fight against COVID – in addition to protecting healthcare workers from potential exposure to infection, it also prevents patients’ lungs from collapsing and sustaining further damage.
“It broke the system, basically. We couldn’t keep up.”
He mentions a study published in the Canadian Journal of Respiratory Therapy at the end of last year, this showed that healthcare workers’ exposure to potentially infectious particles had been significantly reduced when the Flusso was used to transfer patients off ventilators.
Hospitals across the continent seem convinced. Fiorenza says he’s received tens of thousands of orders for the devices – which can only be used on a single patient and must be thrown away after about a week – and sales have grown six-fold in the past year. .
After initially outsourcing the manufacturing to a company in Barrie, he outsourced the work to a local company, LD Tool & Die of Stittsville, in March.
But supply chain disruptions – the Flusso uses three different types of plastics – and worker shortages at the previous plant have resulted in a backlog of orders that it is still striving to fill.
LD can currently produce around 1,200 units a day, but Fiorenza says he hopes to “dramatically increase” that number with the manufacturer’s latest purchase – a robot that can assemble eight devices at the same time it takes one person to assemble them. a.
“This is going to be a game-changer for us,” he says, adding that his company just shelled out $ 20,000 for a second test machine that sends pressurized air through each Flusso before shipment to ensure that each device meets all regulatory standards.
Fiorenza, which holds 18 patents for five different devices, recently introduced a scaled-down version of Flusso designed for use on smaller patients and children. The new device is manufactured by local company Ottawa Mold Craft and recently received the green light from regulators in Canada and the United States.
Meanwhile, Fiorenza says he’s receiving requests for the Flusso from other parts of the world, including Europe, the Middle East and South America. But for now, he says, he keeps his attention close to home.
“It’s just a matter of eating the elephant one bite at a time,” he said with a chuckle. “You cannot be everything to everyone.”
Although Fiorenza is still technically a casual employee of The Ottawa Hospital, he has not changed jobs since the pandemic struck. He feels he can contribute more to the cause in his new role as an entrepreneur.
“For me, the biggest impact I could have was putting Flusso in more patients and protecting more healthcare workers and more patients,” he says. “It was a tough decision to make, but I just felt my value was better served on the other side.”