Learning from InvENtors: Lisa Crites

Learning from InvENtors: Lisa Crites

In this “Learning from InvENtors” post, we’ll be looking at a recent innovation by breast cancer survivor, Lisa Crites.

lisa-f-crites

Sometimes it is the desire to do the most basic thing, in this case, taking a shower, that can spark innovation.

Frustration after her bilateral mastectomy led Crites to create the Shower Shirt, a water-resistant, anti-microbial garment that allows women to shower while preventing water from contacting surgical incisions and the post-surgical drains and tubes that are temporarily sutured into patients’ bodies.

“I had just had my breasts amputated and I was told I couldn’t take a shower,” Crites said. “Women have been going through mastectomies in this country for 70 years. I don’t understand why this product didn’t exist.”

Many healthcare providers minimize the ordeal that taking a shower becomes for mastectomy patients, noted Dr. Emran Imami of TEPAS Breast Center in Melbourne. But not the 100,000+ women who undergo mastectomies each year.

Until Crites’ invention, women who endured mastectomies used large trash bags in order to bathe and wash their hair. Not only do these impromptu solutions put women at risk for infection, they also erode a woman’s self-esteem during a time when she is most vulnerable. This garment also addresses the needs of the 60,000+ patients who undergo breast reconstruction, augmentation or reduction in U.S. hospitals each year.

Crites served as her own guinea pig for the entire design, for although post-surgical drains are removed after about two to three weeks for most mastectomy patients, Crites faced complications and hospitalizations that required her to use the shirt for about a year.

“I was at dinner one evening and began drawing a bolero-style jacket on my napkin. I included all of the bells and whistles needed on the inside of the garment to both protect the post-surgical drains from becoming wet, while also hosting the weight of the drains,” she explained. “I knew women varied in all shapes and sizes so I was going to need to create an elastic perimeter. It was also a given that the most important feature of the product was the neck region; if the neck wasn’t covered appropriately and completely “over-engineered,” as my significant other infers, the product could fail.”

“Since this was not the first time I had started a project in which I didn’t know what I was doing, I totally relied on blind faith.  Of course blind faith, and my calming head-voice who I could still hear saying, ‘Create a water-resistant product for surgery patients, create a water-resistant product for surgery patients.'”

Crites sent her sketch to her brother, Charles.

“He called me and said, “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?” I requested he transform my drawing into some type of a shower jacket. He’s somewhat of an architect; though he says he’s an engineer. But since he draws and designs buildings, I felt highly confident he could draw and design a garment for showering.”

Charles brought the design to life:

shower-shirt-diagram

The Shower Shirt is made of waterproof parachute material on the outside, with microfiber on the inside of the neck, a water-resistant zipper, flap and Velcro all the way down in front. The openings for the neck and arms are elastic. Inside there are three pockets, where a woman might insert drains and also a strap to secure tubing on each side.

“It’s loose around the armpits,” Crites explained. “So let’s say you’ve had a mastectomy on just one side, you could pull the sleeve up on the other side to wash that arm.”

showershirt-300x205

Crites tried to engage a U.S. manufacturer, but she explained, “No one was interested in producing these at an affordable price. It would have been around $140 wholesale, and over $200 at retail,” she said. “I wanted to make a shirt that all women can afford.”

With the help of an import/export expert, Crites found the M Garment company in Guangzhou, China. They worked with her for over a year to complete the design. They have been producing the shirts since 2010. Now the shirt sells for around $75.

“I’ve spent more than a year on patent applications, regulatory documents, design patterns and prototypes for an overseas manufacturer,” she said. “I had no idea of the red tape involved in bringing a medical product to market.”

Crites was invited to appear on Lifetime Television’s “The Balancing Act” to discuss the Shower Shirt. The American Cancer Society has agreed to carry the product in its online store and also feature it in its “TLC” retail magazine. And Invacare, an Ohio-based international medical distributor, will position the product in both the North American market and more than 20 other countries.

Walmart.com picked up the Shower Shirt in August 2011. Crites established a relationship with CureDiva, a company that specializes in lifestyle needs of women who’ve had breast cancer treatment. Amazon picked up the shirt in late 2014.

Crites considered that “Mastectomy boutiques generally cover breast prostheses, mastectomy bras and camisoles. Those are all covered by Medicare.”

In an effort to get Medicare – and eventually other insurers – to cover the Shower Shirt for women after a mastectomy, Representatives Bill Posey (R) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), both of Florida, introduced the Post-Mastectomy Infection Risk Reduction Act of 2014 before the U.S. Congress.

Her invention took Crites to second place at the U.S. Small Business Association’s 2015 InnovateHER Challenge in Washington DC. The contest was sponsored by Microsoft.

Although it was and continues to be a long road, Lisa Crites is an example of someone who saw a problem, created a solution and brought it to market.

Sources:

http://www.tepasbreastcenter.com/articles/cancer-survivor-turns-into-inventor/

http://www.theshowershirt.com/blog/tag/lisa-crites/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/elaineschattner/2015/05/10/shower-shirt-lets-women-shower-after-mastectomy-wins-small-business-administration-innovateher-award/


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6 Comments Learning from InvENtors: Lisa Crites

  1. Ralph M

    Lisa-

    Thank you not only for the much needed invention, but for sharing your story with us all.
    Very inspiring and personal, it really takes guts to tell the world, I’m going to do this! And then go and do just that. Take a bow!

  2. Emily

    Let me preface this by saying you have done a wonderful job bringing this idea to life. I’m so grateful for all the great minds that have helped make the journey easier for those of us who have, and are going through breast cancer. But… I had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction last fall, and two follow up breast surgeries (one last week) and was able to shower the DAY AFTER surgery every time. Why? Because my surgeon used Dermabond (skin glue) instead of stitches to close my incisions. It’s the current standard of care! If a surgeon is making patients wait to shower, or use a trash bag then they are behind the times! Time to find a new breast cancer team! Furthermore, these days infection is avoided by placing disks full of antibiotics around the drain sites along with oral antibiotics while drains are in. I was given little bags that hang from strings around my neck for support while showering and it worked great. So, there’s no need to wait to shower or avoid getting wet after mastectomy unless your surgeon isn’t using CURRENT standard of care. Period.

  3. Michelle

    Hi Emily!

    First, let us just say that we are happy to hear your surgeries were successful. It is definitely a difficult journey and we’re happy to hear you are now doing well. Lisa’s invention was done in 2010, and we fully acknowledge that there have been significant surgical advancements to address this challenge since then. We highlighted Lisa’s journey to highlight the steps she took to bring it to market and success she experienced once the product was a reality.

    We thank you so much for reading and for your feedback!

  4. Lisa Crites

    Emily,
    To clarify, The SHOWER SHIRT was not created to protect the ‘dermabond’ which closes the breast incisions. The product was created to protect from water inhabiting the drain sites which are sutured under the armpit. Please note: as a General Surgeon who also is medical director for a breast center, and an advisory member to The SHOWER SHIRT Col, LLC., having patients wait to shower is definitely not ‘behind the times’ – for that matter – any surgeon who tells their patients to shower before drains are removed are risking infection for their patients. Always better to wait until the JP/Blake drains are removed, to decrease the chances of infection from bacteria/pathogens in the tap water.

    Respectfully
    Emran Imami, MD
    The SHOWER SHIRT Advisory Board Member

  5. Michelle

    Dear Emily,

    We sincerely apologize for any inaccuracies and appreciate your feedback.

  6. Jordao Gourgel

    Hi there fellows,
    I am new to Edison and basically to all inventing thing, but I am so exacting already, loving the idea.
    I am hungry as a horse hopefully I can feed myself on this new love I found (imagination).
    Thanks for having me.
    Jordao Gourgel

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