Southern Indiana engineer and former paramedic designs prototype ventilator

Scott Merritt-Jenney of Starlight, Indiana created a portable ventilator
Scott Merritt-Jenney of Starlight, Indiana created a portable ventilator(WAVE 3 News)
Updated: Apr. 2, 2020 at 11:56 PM EDT
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STARLIGHT, Ind. (WAVE) - A Southern Indiana man believes he created a cheap and easy option to help with the nationwide ventilator demand, but he needs help getting over the finish line.

Governments around the world are scrambling to get their hands on ventilators as the COVID-19 crisis barrels towards the peak. A Johns Hopkins study shows the U.S. could quite possibly need seven times more than are available right now.

Scott Merritt-Jenney of Starlight, Indiana has created a portable ventilator that could quite possibly fill gaps at hospitals.

It’s a marriage between his 20 years as a paramedic and his current career as an automation engineer. After just two days in his shop, Scott created a basic ventilator using off-the-shelf parts as well as something that’s already FDA approved and already in hospitals: an Ambu Bag.

“The machinery just takes the place of the human component that would have had to stand there and squeeze the bag continuously,” Merritt-Jenney explained to WAVE 3 News.

An Ambu Bag is a ventilator that's powered by hand and is an option that comes before hooking a patient up to a breathing machine.

“You can’t stop, you can’t walk away, you can’t leave it alone,” Dr. Roy Givens, an emergency room doctor, said. “This is a chamber that will work like the piston mechanism in a ventilator.”

Scott’s longtime friend, Givens, has been gathering input and guidance on what the prototype needs to keep a patient alive.

“As an ER doctor I don’t want to have to choose who gets the ventilator and who doesn’t, that’s probably my worst nightmare,” Givens said.

Givens explained why hospitals aren’t using these bags right now, because it could spray particles with the virus into the air, but this basic design lowers that risk and puts the bags to use. He also said hospitals are putting patients on ventilators sooner than they normally would because the devices they use also carry that risk.

That’s why he believes his friend’s basic design might actually be very useful.

“This would be a ventilator that people would be put on first awaiting to see if they actually progress and become bad enough to need the $40,000 to $50,000 fancy machine,” Givens said.

As Scott adds new parts and features day by day, he’s closer to a finished product. He has been programming safety features like an alarm to alert medical staff if the tube becomes disconnected.

Scott also programmed a feature that allows the patient to trigger a breath themselves if they need to, creating two modes of ventilation.

Although he progressing leaps in bounds within single afternoons, there comes another challenge: finding companies to manufacture it and getting FDA approval. He wants the final design to be portable and intuitive with touch screen controls and believes since the materials are so common, it will be fairly inexpensive to produce. Also, the main component, the Ambu Bag, is already FDA approved.

Normally, it would take two to three years for a federal green light, but the men are talking to lawmakers, including Senator Rand Paul, to get on the fast track.

“What are the chances that somebody out in Starlight, Indiana is going to be able to help anybody in a global pandemic? But it doesn’t mean you can’t try,” Merritt-Jenney said.

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