The SHOWER SHIRT™, a Class 1 Medical Device is a post-surgical, water-resistant, garment designed to prevent post-surgical drain or catheter sites from coming into contact with water while showering. The clinical purpose is to reduce post-surgical infections, more commonly known as Surgical Site Infections. Many surgical procedures involve the placement of surgical drains, tubes, ports and catheters which penetrate the skin. This medical paraphernalia can act as a portal for bacteria to enter the wound site. Tap water contains bacteria. Thus exposure to water significantly increases the risk of post-surgical infections. Patients are routinely instructed by their physicians not to shower until drains are removed, which may span up to three weeks for mastectomy patients, and many months for dialysis and other surgery patients. I contacted Lisa and asked her to answer the following questions:
How did the idea come to you?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and had undergone a bi-lateral mastectomy. My physicians were adamant I not shower until my post-surgical drains (4 – which were sutured into my armpits and hung below my knees) were removed, normally a two-to three week timeframe. I began looking for a water-resistant product to protect myself while showering, nothing existed. Essentially, I showered with a kitchen trash bag and wrapped it around my body for protection. It was a difficult and awkward process, more importantly – it was insulting to have to shower in a trash bag after amputation of the breasts.
What made you act?
I kept thinking, women have been going through mastectomies in this country for nearly 70 years. Why was there not a product to protect a breast cancer patient like me? I began doing research with physicians, as well as other patients who had gone through breast cancer diagnosis and mastectomy surgery. The story was always the same, the breast cancer patient tried plastic wrap and/or trash bags for protection, but their drains got wet anyway.
What ultimately convinced me to ‘act’ on creating this product for breast cancer patients was this: if mastectomy patients could shower with ease, with a product designed to protect them while showering, they would feel better physically, psychologically and emotionally — something gravely needed during the post-surgery healing process. I felt it was my responsibility to create a product to help support future surgery patients.
How was the prototype process?
We went through five prototypes before the final product was manufactured. Initially, we tried to create a one size fits most which was absolutely impossible. We finalized two separate products, but four product SKU’s – in two colors. We are looking to bring a Plus size on the market this summer.
How was the patent process?
It took us from 3.5 years to attain our patent. We were rejected twice and re-applied. It ultimately became a $30k dollar investment. The SHOWER SHIRT is now recognized as US Patent #8,516,613 by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The product is the only patented shower shirt garment for mastectomy patients on the US market.
How have you marketed it?
We have primarily marketed the product to the medical industry. The American Cancer Society, The National Kidney Foundation, and Essentially Women, a group purchasing organization focused on the breast cancer/mastectomy industry. We have attended several national conferences and purchased vendor tables to market to those niched companies and hospitals that would be looking to add products like ours to their medical device lines. The product is now being used for the following patient populations, as well as breast cancer/mastectomy patients:
• Patients with Catheters (niagra, new tunnel and tesio)
• Savi Catheter patients – for radiation (mammosite procedures)
• Patients having lumpectomies with sentinel-node dissection
• Abdominal Hernia patients with drains
• Patients needing wound vacs, infusion pumps and external catheters
• Patients with central lines
• Lung surgery & cardio-thoracic patients
• Rotator Cuff surgery patients
• Bariatric surgery patients
• External defibrillator patients
• Tummy-tuck patients
• Pacemaker patients (post changing of battery)
– See more at The Shower Shirt Blog
What were some of the obstacles along the way, and how did you overcome them?
From a personal standpoint, I had many health problems while trying to bring the water-resistant garment to market. Within the first year while building prototype, I had 7 surgeries, two hospital-acquired infections and four months of hyperbaric treatments which delayed the entire process. Once we were on the market, our product has been essentially welcomed. We continue to gain rave reviews from ‘retail’ customers. Those customers normally find us online, do their research and purchase direct. Testimonials below:
• “I love this product! When worn as directed, staying dry is easy. I was able to shower, wash my hair and get on with my day. I will recommend this shirt to others. Thanks for your great customer service and kind concern.” J Miller, Breast Cancer Patient
• “The Shower Shirt has been a Godsend for me. Being a dialysis patient with a neck catheter, my husband found it online and it has worked perfectly! My catheter can’t get wet and the Shower Shirt has kept it dry for almost 3 months and counting… I love it!” L Thom, Dialysis Patient
We sell in 70 mastectomy boutiques across the United States. Also, in Canada, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Israel and Japan. We are also included in the Walmart.com product line.
The largest hurdle our company still faces today is attaining Medicare coverage for breast cancer patients. Although the government recognizes penile implants as medical necessities and reimbursed for men, somehow The SHOWER SHIRT™ product is viewed still as a mere “convenience” item for mastectomy patients and not reimbursed, despite decreasing the chance of infection and contributing to the wellbeing of breast cancer patients after surgery. Moreover, the government now reimburses shower coverings for end-stage renal disease patients on dialysis, but not for breast cancer patients.
What advice would you give to those interested in inventing?
While going through this process, I began reading a book titled “Unstoppable,” by Cynthia Kersey. The book detailed multiple entrepreneurial ventures throughout history. However, the most powerful message which stuck in my mind was not about the hardships of these extremely successful companies. The simple message that resonated with me was, “It’s harder to bring an individual product to market that has never existed, versus a product which already exists, but is changed or upgraded slightly and remarketed.”
This message still resonates with me. My product never existed before, therefore, the unknown is more difficult to adapt to consumers. I believe this message is extremely important for inventors. Inventors essentially create products which have never existed before, and why they are termed inventors.
When diagnosed with breast cancer, my faith became a form of blind faith as I had to believe all would be OK. I have absolutely come to believe blind faith placed me in a vehicle to create The SHOWER SHIRT™ product, but it was a power much higher than I who actually drove this long complicated process.
I believe it’s important to think about these issues before starting the process of inventing and bringing a product to market. Think about how the new product could ultimately make a difference in the lives of future customers.
If you had the idea for the Shower Shirt today, what would you have done differently?
For the most part, I would have created the product the same way. We have a great, quality product which works and stands the ‘test of time’ for our multiple patient populations. Though in hindsight, there are several ‘action items’ surrounding The SHOWER SHIRT® I would have done differently. Two of those were the website and initial brochure. Knowing what I know now, I would have done a better job researching our initial website designer and printer as we heavily overpaid for both of those much needed marketing initiatives. I guess that’s trial and error by a lot of start-up companies. We focused on creating the perfect product. We fell short researching the appropriate vendors for the marketing needs surrounding that perfect product.
What can we buy the Shower Shirt?
Enclosed is the distribution page on The SHOWER SHIRT website. Most of our distributors contacted us wanting to carry the product. However, we have strong drop-ship contracts with CureDiva, Wholesale Point and Unbeatable Sales, all of which are e-commerce. Our product is still strong on Walmart.com, with AMAZON picking up The SHOWER SHIRT® in 2015. Amazon also contacted us. We’ve been on Walmart.com since 2011.
What is the most challenging obstacle you face today and what is your approach to overcoming it?
Attaining Medicare coverage for The SHOWER SHIRT®. Congressman Bill Posey and Congressman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz filed the ‘Post Mastectomy Infection Reduction Act’ to help attain Medicare coverage for shower coverings for breast cancer patients.