Mercerians design spinal backboard that puts patients first

Three Mercer alumni stand with a spinal back board

Three Mercerians have developed a spinal backboard that is more comfortable for patients while still providing the durability and strength needed to safely transport them. 

The idea began as a senior design project and is now the first product of their startup company, KRS Medtech. 

“We are a medical technologies company starting up with the mission that we care about patients,” said Kevin Sabusay, a 2020 Mercer University graduate who majored in biomedical engineering. 

His business partners, Rutt Patel and Shawn Pitter, graduated from Mercer in 2019 with Bachelor of Science degrees in biomedical engineering. They went on to pursue Master of Science degrees from the School of Engineering, Patel in biomedical engineering and Pitter in electrical engineering. 

Research shows that traditional spinal backboards often result in three issues for patients: respiratory compromise, pain and development of pressure sores, Sabusay said. 

“We saw that we could possibly improve a medical device that research shows needs to be improved, but no one has taken a step forward to do so,” he said. 

To improve the board, Sabusay, Patel and Pitter made three main changes. 

  • They changed the material of the backboard from high-density polyethylene to polyvinyl chloride, making the board sturdier and providing the patient more support; 
  • They added pads, which provide greater support and conform to the patient’s body; and 
  • They replaced the buckle on the straps with a fabric fastener similar to Velcro, so patients don’t experience respiratory compromise from being strapped in too tightly. 

In addition, they added a heat pad to increase blood flow to the lower back area, where most patients felt pain and developed pressure sores, Patel said. 

“It’s very simple,” Pitter said of the design. “But based on its simplicity we tackle every problem that people failed to realize needs to be fixed.” 

Patient-first mentality

In 2019, KRS Medtech was named to the Mercer Innovation Center’s fourth class of fellows. As a fellow, the company receives funding, office space, paid student interns, mentoring and more to help grow the business. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the company was in the process of finalizing its product designThe partners had recently met with Macon-based Community Ambulance to get feedback from emergency medical technicians about the redesigned spinal backboard. 

“There were some things that we can look into to adjust and make sure it’s perfect,” Patel said. 

The three entrepreneurs’ patient-first mentality was influenced by their experiences with Mercer On Mission’s prosthetics program in Vietnam. Mercer On Mission participants have fitted over 10,000 Vietnamese amputees with Mercer professor Dr. Ha Van Vo’s patented leg prosthetic. 

“Mercer On Mission had a profound effect on all of us and how we view taking care of patients and what we want to impact the world with,” Sabusay said. 

Pitter said the company is working on ways to make the board more accessible in other countries, as well. 

“We see banners at Mercer that everyone majors in changing the world,” Sabusay said. “But I think what you do with that is what really defines who you are. 

“We’re trying to change the world, one step at a time.”

Jennifer Falk is director of digital communications at Mercer. She edits and writes feature stories for The Den and examines web data and analytics to drive content decisions. She also creates and supervises the creation of content for primary University web pages and e-newsletters.