Bob Hussey was recovering from a surgery in 2018 that required him to use an ostomy bag when he became frustrated that the bag didn’t fit properly over the incision. No problem for Hussey, a mechanical engineer who jerry-rigged a contraption using zip ties and parts from a telephone jack cover to create a better fit.

Dan Hussey holds the device he invented with his father, Bob, to help the mobility of ostomy bag users. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Now, Maine Medical Center is taking on his invention as a hospital project and seeing if it could have wider use.

Maine Med surgeons had removed Hussey’s colon, which required him to use an ostomy bag. But the poor fit was an infection risk and made it more difficult for the incision to close properly and heal.

That got Hussey thinking of a solution. He said his training as an engineer makes him look at the world in a different way – to always seek improvements.

“I approached it as an engineering problem,” Hussey, 62, of Waterville, said of the time following his surgery. “I needed a way to make the device more capable of dodging the incisions.”

Hussey created a device that allows the strap that connects the ostomy bag to the patient to be attached to different parts of the bag’s port, so the strap can avoid the incision. The ostomy bag replaces the function of the colon, with waste emptying into the bag. Hussey had lived with ulcerative colitis, a chronic intestinal disease, for 24 years, but a burst colon during surgery meant doctors had to remove it.

Hussey’s contraption helped him recover, and he thought it could also help others.

“It occurred to me you ought to be able to have that, not just for me, but for other patients going through what I did. I thought it would be helpful to them,” Hussey said.

Despite limited mobility and weakness from losing 50 pounds after the surgery, Hussey walked up and down the stairs every day to work on the invention, said his wife, Sandy.

“He was so weak, but he would make his way into his basement workshop to work on his adapter,” she said.

Hussey’s son, Dr. Dan Hussey, was studying for his medical degree in the Tufts University Maine Track program at Maine Med when his father had surgery. Dan Hussey said he helped his father refine the adaptive device, and also referred the invention to The Innovation Cohort, a program at Maine Med that takes ideas from patients and staff to see whether they can be developed.

Dr. Jennifer Monti, director of The Innovation Cohort, said Hussey’s idea has promise, and the adaptive device was quickly accepted into the program. The device now has a patent-pending status with the U.S. Patent Office, and is undergoing testing at Maine Med.

“We are still in the learning process, and the prototype is still undergoing testing,” Monti said. “They’re inventing with empathy and understanding of what the patient is going through, which is a good place to start from.”

Monti said if prototype testing proves to be successful, the cohort could take a number of paths with the device, including selling it to manufacturers of ostomy bags or offering it to Maine Med patients. The Hussey family – including the Husseys’ other son, Dave – has created a limited liability company to handle the business end of the device.

Dr. Alyssa Parian, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University and a spokeswoman for the American Gastroenterological Association, said that in general, ostomy bags have improved in terms of patient safety, fit and ease of use, especially in the last decade. They are less likely to leak, thinner and less irritating to the skin, she said. And there are more models to choose from.

“People are doing all kinds of activities now with no restrictions,” Parian said. “We’ve seen people running marathons and swimming long distances with them on now.”

Dan Hussey, 31, said his dad has always been creative, so it’s not surprising that he tinkered with and improved his ostomy bag. The younger Hussey said he’s determined to get the product to wider use among patients who need it.

“If my dad can use this, so can other Maine Med patients,” said Dan Hussey, who graduated from the Maine Track program this spring and is beginning his residency at Harvard Medical School.

He will study rehabilitation medicine, such as helping brain trauma patients recover after surgery. Hussey said he plans to practice in Maine once his four-year residency is completed.


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