When seconds count: ER doc, Sandia engineer join forces on stronger trauma shears

MAKING THE CUT — Sandia researcher Mark Reece, right, and Albuquerque emergency room physician Scott Forman examine trauma shears developed for Forman’s company, Héros, under a New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program project. (Photo by Randy Montoya) View large image.

by Nancy Salem

“It was the strangest thing. Everyone just stopped,” Forman says. “A paramedic looked across at me, grabbed my hand and said, ‘Where did you get those shears?’ I said I made them.”

A half dozen people in the ER that day in 2008 placed orders for Forman’s shears. “I knew then that I needed to go into business,” he says.

Forman later teamed with a Sandia engineer to improve his trauma shears design so emergency personnel can more quickly get to the injuries they need to treat.

 “Sometimes seconds count. This product will make a difference for the medical community,” says Mark Reece (1831) of Sandia’s Multiscale Metallurgical Science & Technology group. “It’s neat to see something come out of Sandia that will save lives.”

 Forman is CEO of the Albuquerque startup Héros, formerly known as EMvolution, in addition to being an ER physician. He and Mark joined forces through the New Mexico Small Business Assistance (NMSBA)

Program, which pairs entrepreneurs with scientists at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories. The state-funded program was established in 2000 by the New Mexico Legislature to help small businesses get technical support from the labs. It has provided $29.8 million in assistance to 1,876 companies in 33 counties. The help is free of charge to the business.

Mark worked with Forman to improve the performance and durability of trauma shears - the go-to tool for responders in the first seconds of a crisis. The shears must cut through a wide range of materials, from denim to leather to Kevlar, to expose wounds for treatment.

Smarter, more durable trauma shears was something Forman had imagined and tinkered with in his garage for years. He has a background in mountaineering and wilderness medicine and was frustrated by the flimsy, disposable construction of typical trauma shears. “They are imprecise and made of cheap, shoddy materials with a blade that dulls quickly,” he says. “People just throw them away.”

And they get lost. “It’s not at all uncommon to have a patient come into the ER and everybody starts looking for their darn trauma shears,” Forman says. “They’re hard to keep track of. You can’t find them.” 

Forman fitted the handle of his first home-made shears with an integrated carabiner that clips onto a belt. He attached it to a standard manufactured set of trauma shears blades coated with titanium nitrate for a sharper, longer-lasting edge. And he personalized the shears with laser engraving so if they got lost, they’d find their way back.

Forman founded a company in 2008, applied for a patent, and made 1,100 pairs in his spare time while working as a University of New Mexico resident in emergency medicine. “They just caught on from word of mouth,” he says. “Most of the EMTs in New Mexico carry some version of my early trauma shears. I started to think this could work.”

Trial and error

But Forman needed serious help to produce the top-notch shears he envisioned and believed he could sell in bulk to global customers in military, medical, emergency, and other fields. He met flight paramedic Daniel Barela, who had brought a product to prototype through NMSBA with his company Trinity Medical.

 Barela was intrigued by Forman’s trauma shears and joined the business. They applied to NMSBA. In December 2010, Forman was directed to Mark — and stopped making shears in his garage.

“I took Mark our first-generation product and told him we needed help with the material selection for the blades and the blade design so the shears could cut through a more robust set of materials,” Forman says.

 He handed Mark about 15 materials that emergency personnel typically face, including Kevlar from bulletproof vests, loose gauze, diapers, fiberglass, and plaster, all with different densities and compositions. He also gave Mark a variety of blades.

“We wanted Mark to determine if there was one blade design that would give the most bang for the buck,” Forman says. “And Mark, the genius that he is, did it.”

Mark studied the best shears from all over the world, focusing on why some worked better than others and why none worked well on synthetic fibers such as Kevlar, ballistic nylons, and polyethylenes. He tested all the blades on all the materials.

“The failures were very reproducible,” Mark says. “I began to see a trend of what worked and why.”

He researched the literature on cutting with scissor blades. “I drew in material on everything from hairstylists to fabric manufacturers and tried to assemble a picture of what was going on here,” he says. “I got out the microscope and video camera and examined what happens as each blade attempts to cut fabric.”

Mark learned how serrations should be made and combined that data with information on dentation of animals such as sharks, whose triangular teeth are powerful shearing machines. He then tested various blade angles on all the materials. Mark machined trial blades and gave Forman reports and prototypes. “We honed in on a design that gives much better cutting capability,” Mark says.

He and Forman worked together for about six months. The base-model shears they developed has an ergonomic, ambidextrous handle with an integrated carabiner. The blade length and handle pivot point are engineered to generate considerable torque, so less effort is needed for heavy cutting. The blades are high carbon content surgical stainless steel that can be autoclaved.

“We incorporated a proprietary blade design,” Forman says. “Mark is excessively meticulous. He created the pitch of this blade, the troughs between the serrations, the angulations of the serrations and pitch of the other blade - the nonserrated side -to create shears that can cut through everything. It’s brilliant.”

The shears also have a ripper attachment with a replaceable blade to zip through clothing, a bottle opener for medications, a key for oxygen tanks and a window punch. “It’s an all-in-one tool,” Forman says. “EMTs suggested some of the features.”

A eureka moment

 Under NMSBA rules, the program pays for a specific amount of the researcher’s time, which is woven into his or her existing work. The business owner keeps rights to any intellectual property generated through the collaboration.

Forman’s company, Héros, has a patent pending on the final trauma shears design and is negotiating prototype production, product manufacturing, and distribution. Héros includes Forman and Barela, along with Drew Tulchin, who focuses on business development, and marketing director Mike Sophir.

Mark says he enjoyed working with Forman. “It was very cool,” Mark says. “Scott Forman is the real deal. He’s enterprising and has good ideas. When he says this is what we need and this is why, you listen.”

John Willgohs of the Bernalillo County Fire Department says he had a eureka moment when he first saw Forman’s shears. “The ones out there are adequate, but if you have to cut through anything of any substance or thickness, you might as well throw the shears away afterward,” he says. “To have something stronger and more beefy, wow, it’s fantastic. And the clip, oh my gosh. You’re rushing around in the heat of the moment, it’s chaotic, and you have to find the shears. When they’re clipped to your belt, they’re right there. That clip was another eureka moment.”

Mike Cavit, an Albuquerque emergency room technician and EMT, says he appreciates that the blades stay sharper longer and can be resharpened. “The clip makes them accessible and the blades stay sharp,” he says.

The shears will cost more than typical throwaway models, from $20 to $60 versus $5 to $10. Both Cavit and Willgohs say the extra cost would be well worth it to have better shears.

Forman says he has other ideas for improved emergency equipment and would like to work again with Mark. He plans to reapply to NMSBA. “It’s a fantastic program,” Forman says. “It’s invaluable.”

Forman, who finished his residency and joined Presbyterian Hospital in 2010, says the trauma shears have been a labor of love.

“I’ve learned a lot about business, marketing, customer service, material selection and design, manufacturing, prototyping, intellectual property, acquisition, contract law,” he says. “Just about every day somebody comes up and says, ‘Aren’t you the doc who makes trauma shears?’ They have ideas of their own. These are nurses and paramedics and people who know what they’re talking about. I want to be able to help get those products to market.” -- Nancy Salem

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Vestas to install research wind turbine at Sandia’s Lubbock test facility

ARTISTS RENDERING of the SWIFT concept that emphasizes lowering the cost of wind energy by maximizing the output of a wind power plant rather than a single turbine. (Rendering by Chris Brigman)  View large image.

by Stephanie Holinka

The initial phase of Sandia’s Scaled Wind Farm Technology facility (SWIFT), currently being constructed in partnership with Texas Tech University in Lubbock, will be a little bigger than originally planned. Leading wind turbine manufacturer Vestas will add its own 300-kilowatt, V27 research turbine to the two Sandia V27 research turbines.

Overstating water's compressibility

The Labs worked with Vestas to develop the new three-turbine site plan, uniquely tailored to study turbine-to-turbine interactions. Sandia and Vestas will conduct collaborative research with all three turbines, although each turbine can also be used separately with minimal interaction.

“The Lubbock site benefits from high wind resource and low turbulence, which is ideal for research,” says Jon White (6121), project manager and researcher in Sandia’s Wind Energy Technologies group. “Wind at the site comes predominately from the south, making it easy to set up the turbine array for research on turbine-to-turbine interactions.”

Vestas, the world’s leading supplier of wind turbines, partnered with Sandia and added its turbine to “create a technology accelerator that allows Vestas to bring innovations to market rapidly and cost-effectively,” says Anurag Gupta, director of rotor systems at Vestas Technology R&D in Houston.

“The SWIFT concept reflects a shared emphasis among the partners on lowering the cost of wind energy by maximizing the output of a wind power plant rather than a single turbine,” Gupta says.

The site will use V27 turbines, which are smaller than full, industrial-sized turbines.

“The V27 turbines are the smallest turbines that retain significant characteristics to the study of larger-scale machines,” says Jon. “Having smaller turbines makes them easier to reconfigure, repair, and maintain. The cost differences mean researchers can do earlier-stage, higher-risk research at SWIFT and turn tests around much more quickly, allowing them to pursue a more robust annual research agenda.”

Creating a new facility from the ground up also allows detailed characterization of the site and the turbine components before installation and testing. This gives researchers higher confidence in the accuracy of the wind turbine models they create based on research at the site.

Studies at the site will investigate turbine-to-turbine interactions and innovative rotor technologies. Other areas for investigation include aero-acoustics and structural health monitoring of turbines using embedded sensor systems. Researchers will also continue work on Sandia’s structural mechanical adaptive rotor technology (SMART) program.

“Most wind turbine rotors today are passive structures. Sandia’s SMART rotors have active surfaces similar to airplane wings, with actuators that change their shape, allowing for greater control and flexibility,” Jon says.

The site eventually might expand to include nine or more wind turbines, which would allow researchers to further examine how individual turbines and entire wind farms can become better “citizens of the grid” and how to be more productive and collaborative.

Jon says the team hopes to have the SWIFT facility operational by October.

A flexible memorandum of understanding (MOU), signed by all four partners - Sandia, Vestas, Texas Tech University Wind Science and Engineering (WISE) Center at Reese Technology Center, and Group NIRE, a renewable energy development company - allows use of the site for collaborative and proprietary research, depending on research needs.

DOE’s Wind and Water Power Program is funding Sandia’s work.

Vestas has research and development offices in Texas, Massachusetts, and Colorado that work with the company’s technology centers in Asia and Europe to improve existing wind turbines and develop the wind power systems of the future. Since 1979, Vestas has supplied more than 46,000 wind turbines in 69 countries and employs more than 3,000 people in the United States in technology research, manufacturing, sales, and service

-- Stephanie Holinka

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Cheston Bailon’s path to Sandia passed through Iraq

Cheston Bailon on patrol in Iraq in 2005 . . . and at Sandia today.    (Photo by Randy Montoya)  View large image.

by Nancy Salem

A smile often crossed Cheston Bailon’s face as he sat poised for combat in the deserts of Iraq. His fellow Marines thought he was crazy.

“What’s wrong with this guy?” Cheston (5635) laughs, recalling those moments. “He’s smiling in Iraq.”

Cheston’s smile came from memories of home, of growing up in Shiprock on the Navajo Reservation with his brother John. “We lived a rough life without many privileges,” he says. “But there was love. We worked in the corn fields with my dad in 100-degree heat. It was life for us. It prepared us to endure some of the hardships we would face in Iraq.”

Cheston, 27, and John, 13 months older, were inseparable. “My story begins with my brother,”

Cheston says. “I don’t know a day without John.

He’s been with me every step of the way.”

Their journey took the brothers, both Marines, to side-by-side duty in the Iraq War. They made it home in 2005, finished college, and went to work for Oracle Corp. in Virginia.

Cheston recently took the big step of leaving Oracle, and John, to take a position at Sandia. He is the first hire under the Labs’ Wounded Warrior Career Program, which offers a variety of work options to combat-injured veterans.

“I chose Sandia because I wanted to do more,” says Cheston, who prefers to keep the nature of his injuries private. “Its mentality appealed to me. And the welcome has been incredible. It feels like a big hug.”

Sense of responsibility

Cheston lived most of his life on the Navajo Reservation. His father, Francisco Bailon, a native of Santo Domingo Pueblo, retired this month from a long career as a Los Alamos National Laboratory machinist. His mother, Fannie Bailon, a Navajo, mixed work with being a stay-at-home mom while raising her four children, Cheston, John, Jodene, and Jessica. Francisco commuted from Shiprock to Los Alamos, and sometimes moved the family back and forth so he could be close to them.

“My dad never sat us down and said how to be a man. He taught by example,” Cheston says. “We faced challenges and hardships and developed perseverance. Our mom gave us the nurturing side, to take care of people and empathize. It was a good combination. John and I were both motivated to develop ourselves.”

 Cheston and John did a year of high school at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell. “I contemplated the idea of joining the military,” Cheston says. “I thought about it a long time. Looking back, I didn’t have one good reason — I had several.”

His motivation revolved around responsibility. He wanted to be the person who stepped up so someone else didn’t have to. “I was young and able-bodied. I didn’t have a family depending on me,” he says. “Send me.”

 Cheston enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves before graduating from Shiprock High in 2002. John, who had completed a semester at Arizona State University, decided on the heels of 9/11 to join him.

Fannie Bailon was reluctant to let both her boys go. “I told them I strongly disagreed. I was upset,” she says. “But it’s also important to support your children’s dreams. I just stepped aside.”

Francisco Bailon says he and Fannie had to face their faith and trust that their boys would be safe. Cheston convinced his parents that he and John were in good hands. “I never felt afraid for my safety,” Cheston says. “I believe in the Native American ways. I always knew I’d be taken care of.”

Cheston and John did boot camp together and were placed on reserve status in March 2003. Cheston enrolled at San Juan College and later joined John at ASU studying business.

On Jan. 4, 2005, the brothers were activated for duty in Iraq. Cheston and John, both lance corporals, were deployed with the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment as infantrymen.

“We were in one of the most engaged units since Vietnam,” Cheston says. “We saw a lot of combat.”

Their battalion lost 48 Marines and sailors.

“I was losing my mind,” Fannie Bailon says. “I tried not to watch the news reports. My faith was really tested.”

Cheston spent six months in Iraq and John seven. “John and I built an even stronger bond,” Cheston says. “Our band of brothers relationship was amplified because we really are brothers. We talked a lot about religion and the purpose of life. It helped us develop who we are.”

The brothers were welcomed home to Shiprock with a traditional Native American ceremony to “shed the armor and take away the warrior mindset,” Cheston says.

They re-enrolled in business courses at ASU and were discharged from the military in 2008. Cheston graduated in May 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. John earned a degree in sustainability.

A perfect fit

Cheston says his sense of responsibility did not end with his tour in Iraq. “After my service, I looked for other stages or platforms to continue my necessary responsibility to enrich my community,” he says.

 At ASU the Bailons were accepted into the second class of scholars of the Pat Tillman Foundation, named after the ASU graduate, National Football League player, and soldier who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

“Pat lived life to the fullest. He was engulfed in learning,” Cheston says. “The foundation carries on Pat’s legacy by helping people become leaders.”

Working with a foundation mentor, Cheston and John developed a project to increase school retention rates for Native American students and ran the New York City Marathon on their behalf, raising $4,240 each.

They heard about the Wounded Warrior program in an email from the Marine Corps while eating a mound of pasta after the race. They applied and were hired by Oracle, a Sandia partner in Wounded Warrior.

In July 2011, Cheston was invited to Sandia. “I was blown away by the work being done here,” he says. “It was a perfect fit for me.”

Sandia later offered a job and Cheston accepted, but the decision to leave John wasn’t easy. “We talked long and hard and decided that, maybe, if we have different experiences we can bring more to the conversation,” Cheston says. “We challenge each other to be better people.”

Cheston started work in February as a cybersecurity technologist in Analytics and Cryptography. His manager, Curtis Johnson (5635), says his group has military customers and works on problems relevant to deployed personnel.

“Our admiration for the servicemen and women we work with made the Wounded Warrior program attractive to us,” Curtis says. “We are eager to do our part to help military personnel transition to productive civilian careers, and we’re excited to see how Cheston’s unique skills and experience benefit our team over time.”

James Peery, director of Information Systems Analysis Center 5600 and Wounded Warrior’s executive champion, says Sandia will continue to hire through the program. “These men and women who have served honorably in our military and come back with sustained injuries have conviction,” he says. “They will run through a wall to get the job done. I have no doubt they will be incredibly successful at Sandia.”

James says Cheston is someone who will run through the wall. “He takes on initiative,” James says. “He won’t let anything get in his way.”

Perhaps the best description of Cheston comes from his parents, Francisco and Fannie Bailon, speaking together. “We are really proud of Cheston, of the way he thinks, talks, and walks his journey in life, and how his plan is well written out and what his goals are. His determination is totally amazing.”

-- Nancy Salem

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