Taking away the pain

Family project makes device more comfortable

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Mike McIntyre and his son Elijah, 17, look at port pillows Elijah designed after noticing that his father was experiencing discomfort from the port placed in his chest as a conduit for chemotherapy medication to combat his cancer. Elijah undertook redesigning port pillows – small cushions meant to protect the port – as an Eagle Scout project.

Families of cancer patients often feel like helpless bystanders as a loved one battles the disease, with doctors and medical personnel on the front lines and the family in a rearguard role of home care and observation.

Elijah McIntrye, 17 and a student at Williamstown High School, decided to take a more active approach during the chemotherapy process his father, Mike McIntyre, was undergoing. Elijah noticed the discomfort his father experienced while riding in the family minivan as the seatbelt pressed against the port in his upper chest.

Ports are installed in some patients, such as chemotherapy recipients, who need numerous infusions of intravenous medications. The devices allow direct access to the venous system and save the patients’ veins from repeated puncture of injections.

The port protrudes slightly above the skin and is generally placed on the right or left side of the upper chest, a part of the body that can come in continuous contact with a seat belt when riding in a car. Commonly available “port pillows,” small cushions to protect the area, still transmit some of the pressure to the port.

Elijah’s device, unlike others, includes a rectangular cavity that allows the pillow to cushion the area around the port without pressing against it.

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Mike and Elijah McIntyre display port pillows the Eagle Scout designed for his dad, made from fabric that included university emblems.

“I was diagnosed with cancer in December of 2017,” Mike McInytre said. “They had port pillows already, it was a solid little pillow, but it still presses on the port, which is pretty sensitive. Elijah made a prototype of one that would work better, with a hollowed-out spot so the seat belt doesn’t smash it down.”

The commonly available port pillows are designed to prevent injury to the patient or damage to the port, but not necessarily for comfort.

Elijah, he said, stayed up until 3 a.m. the night he had the idea fully formed in his mind, trying to create a prototype.

“It was actually inspired by my dad,” Elijah said. “He said, ‘That little pillow I got from the hospital, wouldn’t it be nice if we had one that would form to the port?’ We tried a circle and a square…it was trial and error to see how it would fit on a seat belt. The larger size worked better, and we had to figure out the right length for the Velcro strap.”

Once the prototype was designed, Elijah approached it as an Eagle Scout Service Project, eventually making 150 of the devices.

“It took a couple of months, mostly getting the materials and getting them in one place, then cutting the Velcro, cutting the fabric and sewing,” Elijah said.

Elijah, Mike and wife and mother Shelly looked at a couple of the final port pillows in their Williamstown living room one afternoon this week. The devices are the size of a hand and bear the logos of university sports organizations.

“I tried to give him the Ohio State one, but he wouldn’t take it,” Elijah said with a laugh as Mike held up a pillow emblazoned with the West Virginia University emblem.

The project donated 150 of the pillows to the Strecker Cancer Center at Memorial Health System. Susie Black, a nurse at the center, said about 100 of the pillows are still left. Patients who received them, she said, have been glad to have them.

“The port is elevated a little above the skin level, so wearing a seat belt can create discomfort,” she said. “There’s a generic type of pillow with Velcro straps, but the McIntyres have designed a better device, with a concave section that sort of cradles the port. Everybody who’s gotten one is really appreciative.”

Black said about one in four cancer patients are fitted with ports, and ports also are used for patients with other illnesses, such as congestive heart disease, for whom periodic injections are required and whose veins aren’t suitable for the process.

The length of time the ports remain varies greatly, she said. Some have them for just a few weeks, others have them up to five years.

For Mike McIntyre, 52, the port’s usefulness has come to an end. Doctors have told him the chemotherapy has been ineffective against his pancreatic cancer and have discontinued it. His only hope now lies in remission. Nonetheless, his family has made a contribution to the comfort of others.

“I’m just proud of him, he came up with this idea, with help from his mother and grandmother,” McIntyre said. “It’s just made me joyful that he’s done something to help other people with cancer.”

Port pillows

•Designed to protect injection ports in patients.

•Elijah McIntyre’s port design includes a cavity for greater comfort.

•150 of the devices were given to the Strecker Cancer Center for free distribution to patients.

Source: Strecker Cancer Center, McIntyre family.

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