THE INSTITUTEAbout 30 percent of women who have had breast cancer surgery experience post-mastectomy pain syndrome, nerve pain that occurs in the chest wall or armpit, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
The National Cancer Institute reports that opioids or other pain medications often are prescribed to combat the condition but that many patients cannot afford the pills, which can cost up to US $12,000 per year, or they are too afraid of becoming addicted. Also, the ACS has found that such medicines don’t always work well for nerve pain.
IEEE Student Member India Glennon, a high school student who lives in Chicago, has made a heated jacket designed to help lessen the pain and hopefully reduce the need for medication.
CREATING THE CARE COAT
Glennon was inspired to invent the garment after seeing the chronic pain her mother, IEEE Member Carol Glennon, was experiencing seven years after she underwent a bilateral mastectomy.
On a cold day in 2015 during a shopping trip in San Francisco, India’s mother complained how the weather was causing her discomfort. That was when the girl, then 13, decided she would do something to help.
She discovered that caregivers often apply heat to the inflamed area to help the patient. Such therapy dilates the blood vessels and helps sore, tight muscles relax. Doctors often suggest that breast cancer patients use heating pads. Glennon’s jacket helps make such relief portable.
Glennon took a store-bought coat and added warming pads from Adafruit Industries, a popular DIY electronics website. Glennon secured the pads, which were 13 centimeters by 15 cm, to the coat’s interior with industrial-strength Velcro fasteners and connected them by wire to a small battery pack in one of the garment’s pockets. When switched on, the two AA batteries enable the pads to reach a temperature of about 27 ºC. Together the components cost about $20. The heating-pad and battery-pack ensemble can be removed to wash the coat.
Glennon called her invention the Care Coat.
Almost any store-bought outerwear item with at least one pocket can be used to create such a coat, she says.
In an interview with IEEE-USA InSight, Glennon said, “Without the coat, my mom’s pain level, on a scale of 1 to 10, was about a 7. But while wearing the jacket, her pain was reduced by two to three points.”
Glennon entered her coat in the 2015 Google Science Fair, a global online competition for students ages 13 to 18. Although she did not win, Glennon says, she was not discouraged.
She is refining her original design to make it more cost-effective. The coat now uses a lightweight jacket with the same heating pads and many of the same components. After school and on weekends she researches more efficient batteries and a less expensive jacket. She is looking to reduce the price of the components to as low as $10.
Glennon tests her prototypes on friends of her mother who have had surgery for breast cancer. She makes changes to the design based on their feedback. Once she has perfected the Care Coat design, she plans to make it available online.
“My initial goal was to help my mom feel better,” she says, “but now it’s to help others.”