Baby cousin’s suffering inspired Mallow's Darren to design feeding system

A University of Limerick student who designed a feeding system for patients who cannot ingest food normally after witnessing the stress his baby cousin went through, has won the Irish leg of the 2014 James Dyson Award.

UL student Darren Lehane with the revolutionary new tube feeding system invention for patients who cannot ingest food normally.

Darren Lehane, an industrial design student from Mallow, Co Cork, was inspired to come up with the Nutria feeding system after witnessing the hardship of his baby cousin Danielle, who had to use a feeding tube shortly after she was born.

“It was horrible. She had an awful time. The tube kept falling out and the excess tube was taped to her face, giving her a rash,” the 22-year-old said. “Inserting an NG tube incorrectly has life-threatening consequences. A friend of mine studying medicine spoke of the stress this problem created in hospitals, but especially in the home setting, where an X-ray is not possible.”

He began to investigate ways of improving the feeding system and joined an online forum where parents shared problems they experienced with tube-feeding.

“It was here that I learned of the skin irritation caused by taping the tube to the patient’s cheek. The appearance of a child with a tube taped to their face has in itself become a symbol of illness. So I set myself the goal to make the tube as discrete as possible.”

Darren also wanted to address the existing risk of mis-insertion of the tube.

He said it took a lot of evaluation to establish that the project would consist of three separate parts which would work together as a suite of products. “I remembered how my uncle had to feed his daughter via an NG tube for six months, and after listening to his experience, it was apparent tube placement was only one of several issues that made life difficult for carers and patients alike,” he said.

“Nutria consists of a nostril valve to remove the need for taping of excess tubing, an audio jack accessory to safely monitor tube insertion on smartphone and a re-engineered pump with only two buttons. All other functionality is moved to an app that’s operated on any smart device, via Bluetooth.”

Nutria will progress to the international stage of the James Dyson Award and Darren aims to commercialise the product. As national winner, Darren got €2,400 in prize money. The next milestone will be the Dyson Engineers shortlist, to be announced on October 16, followed by the international winner on November 6.

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