Small company develops handier, more durable trauma shears
Shears feature carabiner, disposable ripper, locking mechanism to keep blades from accidentally opening
The Albuquerque Journal
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As a kid, Scott Forman loved Legos and Erector sets and once even disassembled the family's new Sony TV just to see how it worked.
To his mortified mom's relief, he put the set back together, in perfect working order. "She thought it was a goner," he said.
His curiosity and passion for working with his hands didn't stop there. In time, he set out on a career path that's taken him to some of North and South America's highest altitudes, into the field of wilderness medicine and then, into the emergency room — as a physician.
Today, he hopes he is on the verge of a successful business venture that's somehow ties all the experiences together.
An emergency room doctor for Presbyterian, the 42-year-old Nebraska native also is the CEO and founder of Héros, a still-small company created two years ago to design products for emergency medical workers, firefighters, nurses and doctors who staff the ERs.
His company, with the aid of a state program that pairs small-business entrepreneurs with Sandia National Laboratories experts, has already made inroads into the market with its first product — a highly durable trauma shear that can cut like shark's teeth, almost literally.
Durable trauma shears
"Cutting people's clothes off, cutting off helmets from downed motorcycles or bicycles, cutting through leather boots, cutting through belt buckles — being able to access the skin or injuries ... This is the tool that has been used for decades to achieve that purpose," he said.
Only, in his view, the shears weren't always so durable, and not always as handy as one might think.
"You have to go looking for them, or you've lost them, or you set them down somewhere during the last patient encounter," he said. "This is a decades-long problem that no one had fixed."
Some early ideas about a possible solution were brewed in a coffee-shop conversation with a med school buddy.
"I thought, wouldn't it be neat if you actually had a pair you could use more than once or twice or three times out of materials that were worth holding on and you made them accessible when you needed them?" he said. "Then we went one step further with it and said, wouldn't it be neat if we could personalize them so if they do get lost, they come back to find you?"
Forman's own introduction to emergency medicine became a career changer.
A lifelong outdoors enthusiast, Forman was a guide with the American Alpine Institute in the state of Washington heading mountain expeditions from the Andes in Peru to the British Coast Range of Canada. Among the job requirements was having certification as a wilderness first responder. His interest piqued, he advanced in short time to wilderness EMT.
He became an wilderness medicine instructor, with many of his students medical professionals who wanted to adapt their skills to the back-country environment. Not content with his own clinical knowledge, he enrolled in physiology, anatomy and other basic courses at the University of Colorado in 2002 "just to learn more."
"It didn't take long before I saw that my goal and path forward was to become an ER doctor," he said.
Forman began developing his first product prototype about five years ago by modifying a highquality pair of shears. In a throwback to his mountaineering days, he removed one handle and in its place bonded a high-strength aluminum carabiner — a climbing device for clipping ropes — for easy attachment to one's belt, backpack or medical kit bag. Personalized laser engraving on one of the blades added protection against them getting lost.
Colleagues loved it
"I started my residency in 2007 at UNM in emergency medicine and by that time I had a few functional prototypes of the first version," he said. "I took a brand-new pair to a hospital rotation in Farmington and a trauma came in through the door and everyone was scrambling looking for their trauma shears and I pulled out my prototype ... It's like everything just stopped.
"By the time I left that rotation a month later and came back to Albuquerque, I had 114 orders."
With the help of a couple of friends, Forman went to work in his garage, setting up a website and merchants account. In between night shifts at the hospital, he managed to sell more than 1,000 pairs "before I completely ran out of time and went stark-raving mad," he said, laughing. He said each pair sold for about $50.
"I decided that if we were going to get money for a product I wanted to be of high quality, I wanted it to be much higher quality than what I was able to do in my garage," he said.
Forman said he devoted the next couple of years to redesigning the shear, adding a locking mechanism to keep the blades from opening accidentally, a key for opening oxygen bottles, a window punch to break tempered glass and a disposable ripper assembly to speedily shear through material after an initial cut is made. The shear can be used by either a righthanded or left-handed person and have removable blades for sharpening and cleaning.
Sandia Labs assists
Forman said he still wasn't satisfied with the blade design or material selection. But soon-to-be business partner Daniel Barela, a flight paramedic who had started his own business with a prototype for managing a patient's airway, suggested a possible source of help - the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program. The program connects smallbusiness owners in need of technical assistance with the state's two nationals labs, Sandia in Forman's case.
"It turned out to be a phenomenally great idea," Forman said. "I got the help of Mark Reece (an engineer with the Multiscale Metallurgical Science & Technology group) and he helped me create an incredible blade."
Forman said the young company has since applied for multiple utility and design patents on both the blade and the shear.
"We've been done with the design for about six months and we're well into vetting production," Forman said. He expects to market three models ranging from about $25 for the base version to $80 for a high-end, carbon fiber version.
While a manufacturer hasn't yet been selected, the company - which also includes Barela as vice president of research and development and Mike Sophir of Denver handling marketing - already has some other products in the pipeline, including an improved backboard used to immobilize and transport a patient with a back injury.
"I just need to generate some revenue to be able to pursue them," he said.
For now, Héros still uses Forman's home address.
"My dream is not to just open an office, but to open a manufacturing facility here in the States, and preferably here in New Mexico," he said. "I would love to be able to create some jobs here. There's so much opportunity in this state."
The Héros trauma shear features high-durability blades developed with assistance from Sandia National Laboratories, a carabiner for easy attachment to a belt or medical bag, oxygen key, disposable ripper and locking mechanism to keep the blades from accidentally opening.