Inventing from an Anesthesiologist’s Angle
Deye Wei, M.D., is an anesthesiologist-inventor who recently received a U.S. patent for the intubation tube stylet holder, a device that allows for efficient intubation of post-trauma patients. He completed the prototype with his two sons, Chapman and Chaplin. Although Dr. Wei’s childhood dream was to become an inventor, he found that being a physician has provided him with a lifelong source of inspiration for new inventions improving healthcare. He is a self-taught inventor of 17 years. He also holds a patent in the epidural needle holder, used to anesthetize women in labor. He received his medical degree from Zhongshan School of Medicine at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China, and completed his residency at Suny Downstate Medical Center in New York City.
Dr. Wei immigrated from China to the United States for greater research opportunities in medicine 25 years ago. He currently practices in New York City at a gastroenterology clinic, AGI PLLC, in Brooklyn and at Richmond University Medical Center in Staten Island. He shares with DWC how he actively maintains his hobby of inventing as a full-time anesthesiologist.
E: What is the intubation tube stylet holder?
Dr. Wei: The intubation stylet holder holds the stylet of the intubation device so that it’s easier to direct and turn the tube in a patient struggling with extending his neck due to airway deviations, often due oral injuries or neck fractures.
In a typical intubation procedure, we have to hold the tube and the stylet together—the tube cannot be turned on its own. You can only insert the tube into the trachea straight, and once it’s in—it cannot be turned. Our device allows the anesthesiologist and physician to turn the tube at a variety of angles, and direct it into the trachea. When you advance the tube over the stylet, it can turn at a variety of angles.
E: How did you ensure that your device is safe to use in clinical contexts?
Dr. Wei: We tested it on a plastic human model, which nurses and EMT technicians use to learn intubation techniques. This plastic model has realistic mouth, throat, vocal cord, and tracheal anatomy. So when a device is effective in the plastic human model, you can also feel confident about using on a real human being.
Furthermore, our device is an assistant device, which assists another device—the stylet of the intubation tube—to function better. It doesn’t touch the patient’s body. It’s categorized as a class one device, which carries the lowest risk out of all three classes. Class one devices can be used in clinical trials with the permission of risk management teams from hospitals. However, to place it on the market, we would need approval and a license from U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
E: What modifications did you have to make before submitting your device to U.S. Patents?
Dr. Wei: We modified the device over 50 times to make it as simple and cheap to produce as possible.
The first modification was the shape of the handle. At first, we designed a hand-gun handle. We later tested out different shapes and sizes, and ultimately decided that the best one was a cubic column handle.
The second modification was the stylet holder mechanism. At first, the holder would attach to the stylet through a screw. However, screws are expensive to produce, and inconvenient to install. We eventually decided to create a gap which the stylet can fit right into.
The third modification was the angle between the stylet and stylet holder handle. We tested out 50 degree and 50 degree angles, and finally decided that the 90 degree angle was the best.
E: Where is your favorite place to work on your inventions?
Dr. Wei: At home. We have a nice workshop with a lot of tools.
E: Any upcoming projects?
Dr. Wei: We are designing an IV needle holder, as well as a pillow for patients receiving endoscopies. The pillow keeps the patient’s head extended as the endoscopy is inserted through the patient’s trachea. Normally, the head is not held in place during an endoscopy. As a result, when the patient coughs, breathes, or moves having woken up from insufficient anesthesia, the entire endoscopy procedure is interrupted.
E: What was it like working with your two sons?
Dr. Wei: I explained to my sons, Chapman and Chaplin, the troubles we encounter in the OR that led to the need for an intubation tube stylet holder. Through many discussions and tests, we worked on the prototype together.
Chapman helped me a lot with patent writings and drawings. The patent application involved so many drawings that require explanations. Whenever he drew something, he would come up with questions and suggestions, such as about the size of the handle. Through drawing, we realized that we needed to pick a handle size that would allow as many people to use it as possible.
E: How did you learn about inventing?
Dr. Wei: We bought some books about how to invent, such as Ronald Louis Docie Jr.’s The Inventor’s Bible, and Steven J. Paley’s The Art of Invention. I read over ten books about inventing, usually during the evenings, weekends—whenever I had spare time.
E: What other inventions have you worked on in the past?
Dr. Wei: Five years ago, I received a patent certificate for an epidural needle holder, which is used when anesthetizing women in labor. Some doctors cannot do it because they cannot hold the needle stably. So, I invented a device to hold the needle so that it’s easier to inject the needle into the epidural space.
E: Did you want to be an inventor, or to become a doctor first?
Dr. Wei: I actually wanted to be an inventor first. But I realized that being an inventor requires an abundance of money and time. As an anesthesiologist, I can gain inspiration from my experiences in the OR or ER and be an inventor at the same time.
E: What made you immigrate from China to America and become a doctor again?
Dr. Wei: 25 years ago in China, you could only practice medicine in the hospital. There was no place for doctors outside of hospitals. Also, there was meager funding for research. I was attracted to the abundance of research funding and labs in the U.S. that one could participate in.
E: What other hobbies do you have besides inventing?
Dr. Wei: I started singing Italian and Spanish opera seven years ago. It is an activity that can help improve creativity. In fact, there is an article mentioning opera singing can improve the brain’s hormones, such as the growth hormone, at a potent level. It’s a very important hormone, for positive mood and positive thinking, which boosts my creativity to become a better inventor.