Lavin Lift Strap, Invented for Family, Lightens Load for Caregivers

When Manuel Lavin’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago, his mother was adamant about her desire to keep him at home as long as possible. As the disease progressed, however, his father became combative. Particularly challenging tasks were changing and cleaning him. Lavin’s mother didn’t have the physical strength to lift her husband, and the device Medicare sent over worked well for transportation, but not everyday lifting and changing.

Lavin decided to try and rig up their own device. Using seatbelt material, Velcro, and a couple of hooks, they were able to come up with something that lifted their father’s legs almost like one would lift a baby’s legs during a diaper change. It worked so well that Lavin’s father stopped being combative, and his mother was able to keep him at home longer. “And he never had a bedsore,” Lavin adds.

After his father passed, Lavin’s wife, Donna Gilkey-Lavin, told him she thought he should try to market his device. At first, Lavin dismissed the suggestion—surely someone else had already beaten him to it, he thought. After some research, Lavin discovered that, in fact, no such product existed. He started working on a prototype and patented both the device and the process used to make it, and the Lavin Lift Strap was born.

The Lavins, who both retired after successful careers in IT, made a promotional DVD with family members acting out the parts of patients and caregivers, took it to healthcare conventions, and word slowly got out. The Lavin Lift Strap works with any standard patient lifter that has T-bar technology to elevate the lower half of a patient’s body, allowing caregivers easy access for cleaning, changing, and other care-delivery needs.

A nurse wanted to evaluate the product at a chain of healthcare facilities in California. “I went out to see how the feedback was,” Gilkey-Lavin says. “Six out of eight patients preferred being lifted to being rolled. One patient was stuck in the fetal position, but six weeks after using our product, her limbs were becoming less contracted. We went out a year later, and that patient was out of bed and in a wheelchair, able to socialize. She cried and thanked me.”

Gilkey-Lavin says this kind of feedback is what keeps them going as they wait for their product to turn a profit. They’re tenants of Ann Arbor SPARK East, in Ypsilanti, MI, which the couple says has helped immensely in terms of creating a business plan and soliciting feedback. “It’s just so hard to get it sold,” Gilkey-Lavin says. “It’s not hard once caregivers hear about it, but it’s hard getting the word out.”

The Lavins have now devised a Lavin Lift Strap for use by home caregivers, and are finishing the development of one specially made for institutions, with a disposable strap that can be changed for each new patient. Not only does the Lavin Lift Strap improve the lives of patients, Gilkey-Lavin says, but it also cuts down on worker’s compensation claims that come from lifting and rolling patients. “Next to construction workers, nurses and nurse’s aides are injured the most on the job,” she notes.

What the Lavins see is a coming “silver tsunami,” where, thanks to the aging Baby Boomer generation, more patients come into hospitals older and heavier. With the cost of healthcare continuing to rise, they believe more people will want to keep their loved ones at home.

Gilkey-Lavin describes the “continuum of care,” where a patient starts out at home but then becomes disabled. If they have bedsores, they bypass a long-term care facility and instead go to the hospital. After the bedsores are healed, they head to a rehab facility and then back home or on to long-term care. The Lavins think their product can be used along the entire continuum.

“Maybe it’s the muscle memory of being a baby, or maybe it’s just not having hands all over you,” Gilkey says of his product’s success with patients.

The Lavins have inked deals to sell the Lavin Lift Strap online at Amazon, Health Products for You, and Wayfair. They are trying to establish a social media presence with their son’s help. But for now, as word trickles out and sales increase, Gilkey-Lavin says the thank-you notes they receive keep them going.

“It does make you feel fantastic when someone calls and says, ‘You’ve changed my life,’ ” she adds. “We live on those feelings.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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