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Last Updated: Friday, 5 October 2007, 23:27 GMT 00:27 UK
Art students aim to save lives
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

The Tongue Sucker device
The device is designed for lay people
The London bombings of 2005, which left 56 dead and 800 injured, shocked a group of graduates so much that they decided to invent a device to save lives.

The team of four - Philip Greer, Graeme Davies, Chris Huntley and Lisa Stroux - were all students at the Royal College of Art when they came up with the inspiration for the "Tongue Sucker" to aid breathing.

"All of us lived in London and thought that there might be something that could be done following the bombings," explained 26-year-old graduate Lisa.

"We talked to the paramedics involved, the doctors and the nurses and emergency services about it. They said that one of the problems of a disaster of this scale is getting trained people to the site - in London that can take up to 12 minutes or even longer.

First aid device

"Once you get there one of the first things you do is to open the airway or check that the unconscious patient is breathing, so this is why we wanted to design something that could be used by bystanders."

Now their design has been given an accolade and 68,000 by the Danish government.

The team are going to use the cash to develop a prototype and get it into hospitals for clinical trials.

Experts stressed that the device would need thorough testing before it could be put into use.

The idea was to make them as available to as many people as possible, first aid kits, taxis, trains the underground
Lisa Stroux

The Tongue Sucker is a small plastic chamber with a bulb-shaped air reservoir which allows untrained bystanders at the scene of an emergency to keep the airway of an unconscious person open.

You squeeze the bulb, place it over the tongue of the injured person and release.

Suction then draws the tongue off the back of the throat, creating a small but vital gap to allow the unconscious person to breathe.

Once in place, the first-aider is free to perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), call for help or assist other casualties. In addition, the brightly coloured bulb signals to arriving paramedics which casualties have been treated.

Getting airways open

It is estimated that about 250,000 people in the UK become unconscious every year, and without their airway being cleared they can die or suffer severe brain damage.

Lisa is convinced their idea will help prevent deaths.

"We have proven the concept, that it works, but just with manikins and ourselves and other people available to us - all conscious," she said.

"The idea was to make them available to as many people as possible - first aid kits, taxis, trains, the Underground, etc."

The Danish government gives five "Index" awards each year to designs around the globe that it feels have done the most to improve lives.

The 11-strong jury were particularly impressed by the Tongue Sucker, which they praised for its simplicity, low cost and low-tech design.

Lisa Stroux
Designers have scooped top award

Dr James Kinross, of St. Mary's Hospital, London, who has seen the device and advised the students, said the Tongue Sucker was very effective and could be a vital tool in helping open an unconscious person's airways.

"If you are the first on the scene it could be very difficult to open the airways."

But Dr Meng Aw-Yong, medical adviser at St John Ambulance, said the device would need careful checking before being put into use.

"In an unconscious patient it is vital to check that their airway is open and this can be achieved, without any equipment, by the simple manoeuvre of lifting the chin and tilting the head back to raise the tongue off the back of the throat.

"We understand that some people are nervous about approaching casualties.

"Research shows that the fear is of performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and it is not presently clear how this device will help. In fact there are potential pitfalls with introducing devices into an unconscious person's mouth. We hope clinical evaluation will determine the Tongue Sucker's effectiveness.

"There is no substitute for knowing simple first aid procedures. Going on a first aid course can equip you with the knowledge and confidence to deal with many emergency situations."



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