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Tue, Apr 7, 2020 at 05:00 PM

Local company created equipment to protect doctors from Coronavirus

Atrion Medical Products, Inc. in Arab has designed and manufactured intubation boxes to assist in treating COVID-19 patients while protecting medical personnel.

Local doctors on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic require protection from possible exposure while intubating patients who need a ventilator. Unfortunately, no medical equipment existed for this new requirement. Fortunately, though, the physicians knew just where to turn for help and it was less than seven miles from the hospital. 

Atrion Medical Products, Inc. in Arab has designed and manufactured medical devices for more than 50 years. Dr. Victor Sparks of Arab, Medical Director for Emergency Services at Marshall Medical Center North, and his family have known Atrion Medical’s President Vandy Cruise and his family for much of that time, so he knew exactly who to call.

Atrion Medical has been awarded hundreds of patents, but the company had barely completed and delivered an initial intubation box prototype for testing when Cruise received the call last Friday.

“This is not something we usually do,” he said. “We don’t typically make devices for healthcare workers’ protection.”

That didn’t stop them. A team of machinists and engineers dropped what they were doing over the weekend and headed to work to start on another prototype.

“That’s why we were able to turn it around so quickly,” he said. “That’s what we do.”

An intubation box looks simple – a clear box to provide a protective shield between the patient and the healthcare provider - but the challenge was in the material, Cruise said. Some substances cannot hold up to being cut with a saw and others can’t stand up to sanitizing chemicals. They managed to locate a polycarbonate material that could handle both and was available quickly.

They didn’t even have precise dimensions to go by because the box must sit on top of a hospital bed, which varies in size from department to department. It also must fit over a person, and those tend to come in different sizes too.

“The first one we made was a little narrow,” Cruise said. “We made it bigger to fit over wider shoulders.”

An intubation box delivered by Atrion to Marshall North on Saturday was used within an hour by Emergency Physician Dr. Tyler Hughes, also of Arab.

“The intubation box provided by Atrion was extremely helpful,” Dr. Hughes said. “The added layer of protection during a procedure where there is a high risk of exposure to contagious pathogens gave me extra confidence to be able to perform the intubation safely and quickly. Atrion was also very helpful in altering the box to our specifications to make it as user-friendly as possible. In a time like this, seeing local businesses like Atrion step up to the task has been truly inspiring.”

Atrion fabricated and delivered four boxes for Marshall Medical. Dr. Sparks didn’t want to hoard supplies so he allocated one to Marshall North and South then shared the others with Huntsville Hospital Main and HH Madison. Two more were delivered to Marshall Medical Centers on Tuesday and those were shared with St. Vincent’s in Birmingham and Highlands in Scottsboro. So the effort had a huge impact.

“All parties have been blown away at how quickly you guys mobilized and fabricated these boxes,” Dr. Sparks wrote in a thank-you email to Cruise. “The price, “DONATED”, is astounding!  We literally had the first box within hours of contacting you! It is our desire to see companies such as yours thrive now, in adversity, and in the future as we hope to see more medical products produced here in the USA. Thanks again for your leadership, your friendship and your Christian witness of concern for others. Please relay our sincerest appreciation to your awesome team!”

Atrion employees delivered the boxes except in the case of a Northwest Georgia hospital where an employee met them halfway. Normally medical products are shipped rather than hand-delivered by the company but this urgent situation allowed no time to develop and produce shipping containers.

“It’s been a challenge,” Cruise said. “Our team has done a great job.”

Atrion runs seven days a week designing, prototyping, developing and manufacturing a myriad of medical devices on its Arab campus.

“That’s why we were able to turn it around so quickly,” Cruise said. “That’s what we do. It takes very skilled people to do this.”

Cruise was very happy to be able to help in the fight against the novel coronavirus. Unfortunately, Atrion Medical can only do so much. They have been requested by hospitals to produce desperately-needed masks. The company theoretically could make them but with the materials in short supply, it couldn’t churn out millions like huge companies can.

“Some things we can do and some things we can’t do,” he said.

Atrion does not directly supply hospitals with medical equipment. Rather, the company sells devices to major companies in the medical industry all over the world. That was the main reason there was no charge made for the prototype intubation boxes. That and the fact that Atrion Medical as a company simply wanted to benefit their community.

“Our goal was to help,” he said. “We feel humbled that we could do this. The hospital people are the front line people. We just want to do what we can to help.”

According to Atrion Medical’s website, its campus features three office buildings and 116,000 square feet of manufacturing facilities. All buildings are connected by underground tunnels and covered walkways. Customers and suppliers are welcomed to stay in the company’s guest house on the grounds.

Atrion Medical product lines provide solutions for a variety of medical markets, including:

  • Cardiovascular
  • Orthopedic
  • Ophthalmic
  • Gynecological
  • Laparoscopic
  • Peripheral
  • Urological
  • Neurological
  • Anesthesia

Through a network of international companies and distributors, Atrion sells products into countries worldwide including Austria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Croatia, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Lebanon, Mexico, Pakistan, Poland, Puerto Rico, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, and United Kingdom.

Atrion Medical Products, Inc. is a subsidiary of Atrion Corporation.