I begged my inventor friend, and fellow Shot@Life Champion, Dr. Amy Baxter to chat with me about her invention (Buzzy,) her work, and of course-her favorite children's book. Dr. Amy, a mom and advocate, lives right here in Atlanta. I feel so fortunate to know her! Here is part of our interview about her career, her totally amazing invention (STEM anyone?, girl power anyone?) and how well....balance is hard to find!
What sent you on the path to becoming a doctor? I always liked being a know-it-all and being able to fix things. I particularly like being able to step in a crisis and say "OK, let's calm down. We know how to do this. Let's start with this...." or fix something that's broken. That's probably why my son's Evil Needle-Wielding Fiend experience made me want to find a solution to the problem of immunization pain, and then execute it.
What is the best part of your job? Best is when we get letters from nurses or kids telling us how much Buzzy helped them, or how great it is, or how a kid who hasn’t gone to the doctor for years due to fear of shots now isn’t afraid. It’s also awesome working with the team of my friends whose children are my kids friends, and all of us are helping Buzzy. We’re all moms, and all have really down to earth “let’s make this work” sensibilities, on top of a desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We share some equanimity about if the business doesn’t take off, we’re still doing something meaningful. The worst is having a business at all; I’m still a practicing doctor with a busy research department, and so I don’t have nearly as much time for my family. I haven’t seen a movie with my husband for three years. If Buzzy doesn’t take off and help a lot of people, and allow me to have a bit more free time when the kids are teenagers, I’ve sacrificed a few years of time with my children that I can’t get back. The very hardest is working from home when I don’t have a sitter but expected one: I’m edgy about the goals for the day I need to get done, irritable because the kids want time with me and I’ve got STUFF TO DO, and sad because even when I try to be in the moment and enjoy the time with them I can’t put myself in that mental frame.
Who is Buzzy and how did he come to be? I was doing needle pain research throughout my pregnancies, and when the kids got old enough to remember I brought creams or distraction toys to lessen the impact of the shots. Consequently, they were all really good shot takers until one nurse told my oldest out of nowhere “You are going to sit still or this is really going to hurt and we will have to hold you down.” He did great for the shots but then threw up afterwards and had been needlephobic ever since. I was so mad at the system and myself for not being able to protect him that I wanted to come up with something that worked instantly that parents could bring and use even if the healthcare system wasn’t interested.
I knew that the body could stop pain naturally using something called “gate theory”. If you bang your knee and rub it the pain stops, if you smash your finger and shake it it helps the pain, or if you burn your finger and stick it under cold running water it quits hurting. I thought of cuffs of cold water, all sorts of messy stuff. I got the idea in the car driving home from the hospital one day that vibration would work, but it wasn’t until my husband suggested frozen peas UNDER the vibration that it really made my kids’ hands numb to sharp pokes. Once I figured out that cold and vibration together near the sharp pain worked, I tried to get a pharmaceutical company interested in the idea. For a few years I tried, with no luck. Finally my husband and I agreed to sink the home equity line into the idea and start our own business. I also invented cards called “Flippits!” that you can pull out and distract during procedures. They have counting and finding tasks which are proven to decrease pain, and they can even fit in a slot on Buzzy’s tummy to block the view of the procedure if the sight of the sharp is the problem.
Buzzy combines cold and vibration to block sharp pain transmission, just as putting a burned hand under water makes it better. The ice pack is either brought in a Cold-to-Go bag or sandwiched between two freezer packs (I used the ones from the Medela pump) or taken the freezer at the doctor’s if they have a Buzzy. When the nurse is ready for the shots, the freezer pack is slipped into an elastic band behind buzzy, then the vibrator is switched on and the ice and vibration are applied together “above” the site of the shot. When the shot is not on an arm or leg, put Buzzy between where the nerves come out of the spinal cord and where the shot is: lateral to the shot for the stomach, closer to the spine than the shot on a diagonal for the buttocks. Leave Buzzy on for at least 15 seconds, up to a minute or so for extra numbing. Buzzy stays ON during the poke to keep disrupting the nerve transmissions.
What's next for Buzzy? How does he connect with immunizations? We've just finished a new Buzzy, a little smaller and more powerful, to make immunizations easier. My children have grown up with Buzzy, so even though two of the three were afraid of shots, now they don't even ask if they have to get a shot, just "did you bring Buzzy?"
What is your number one piece of advice for parents? CONSTANT VIGILANCE! Seriously, it's hard to distinguish bad parenting from fatigue. Children are a rushing river, and you are the banks. Keeping those banks firm and maintaining the direction of the river is a constant, exhausting job. Fortunately repair jobs are easy when you let things slide. Click here for a few tips from our Buzzy site.
And last, but not least, what is your favorite children's book? Wow, there are so many. Officer Buckle and Gloria is one we refer to often. For Max, of course, Where The Wild Things Are by Sendak was memorized. And I associate Miles with the Harry Potter series.
About Dr. Baxter! Dr. Baxter attended Dartmouth college, and graduated from Yale and Emory Medical school. In May, she will take a sabbatical from her clinical practice to focus on the Pediatric Emergency Medicine Associates research division and MMJ Labs, where she oversees day to day operations, including development, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and sales from her home basement office. Her idea for Buzzy received one of the inaugural Huggies MomInspired awards, and a 1.1M NIH research grant into preventing vaccination pain. Dr. Baxter is a published author in scientific fields of pediatric nausea, pain management, and procedural sedation, and has written numerous articles concerning mom-entrepreneurship and moving from idea to invention. She has three children in elementary, middle, and high, and wishes she had more time for reading, gardening, and playing with them. Fun fact: a devoted sci-fi geek, she was adopted by author Robert A. Heinlein.
This post is part of World Immunization Week and the first birthday of Shot@Life!