Joe Tells the the Full JB-3 Story

Is Independence Too Much To Ask?

JB-3?  JB-3?  What is a JB-3 and where did it get that stupid name?

Well, settle in for a moderately long story.

I’m Joe B.  I’m a C4-5 quad from a spinal cord injury about 27 years ago.  Stupid disabled tricks?  I’ve tried most of them and I have the scars to show for my stupidity.

Anyway, about 14 years ago I went to work with a guy named Ron.   From the beginning I had trouble with pressure sores and urinary tract infections (UTI).  Pressure sores are complicated and continue to be a problem; UTIs are more manageable but a common problem among those of us that are using either indwelling catheters or any catheter for long periods of time.

Time is the big issue:  

How do I get up into my wheelchair and get ready for work, commute to, work all day, commute from, sometimes run errands, and occasionally have a little fun without dehydrating or filling my urine bag  (I strap mine to my leg, so it’s a leg bag from here on.)?  And not just filling my leg bag but filling it to the point of bursting or backing up so my bladder is ready to burst? 

The answer is simple but a little embarrassing. When the leg bag looks like a balloon, I have to ask someone to help me drain it in the restroom.  Luckily, friends or colleagues are almost always willing to help.  Still, I’ve been potty trained for nearly 50 years, and my male ego gets a little bruised whenever I have to ask.  Unfortunately, there are times when nobody or only strangers around.

Ahhh… An Affordable Solution…

Around 13 years ago, I decided to buy a valve from a magazine advertisement.  This electric leg bag valve seemed like a good solution.  It took a little time to get the battery box hooked up and the activating switch was hard to use, but it was better than nothing.  At least I thought so for the first few weeks. 

My first negative experience was after I had the new valve for 6 weeks.  One of the wires to activate the electrical solenoid broke.  Ron took it home and soldered it.  He also cleaned out the valve since it had some fuzz and mucus from a developing UTI that was blocking the passageway.  Simple fixes are to be expected for assistive devices that are used several times a day with extreme conditions like corrosive urine, rain, and movement. 

Soon after fixing it, the wire broke again; Ron replaced the connections with more substantial connectors and wires.  There was no way of knowing if it was going to work or not, but we always assumed it would work.  It took several more cleanings, dead batteries and broken wires to realize this was not a long term solution.

That Tie Was Out Of Date Anyway.

The final straw for Ron was when I had a particularly full leg bag.  He and I went to the restroom to drain it, and of all things – the batteries that activated the in-line valve were dead again, and there was no time to run to the store to replace them.  

The only option Ron had was to detach the electric valve from the drain tube.  While  he was detaching the drain tubing the pressure was increasing, when the valve finally came off the tubing, urine sprayed on his silk tie and on the floor. 

That incident got him thinking that everybody would be happier with a better design.  It became a problem we both now shared.

Throughout the following year, Ron and I had discussed what a bother it was to drain the leg bag and how a good valve might work. A constant topic about the alternative valves that were on the market was what their strengths and weaknesses were and how they could be made better. 

You see Ron is a mechanical whiz kid and enjoys challenges.

A Real Solution… The Apparatus Is Created.

So, a week before Christmas 11 years ago, Ron presented me with an odd contraption. It was made of PVC pipe, a bicycle brake handle and cable, and some handmade internal parts.  We attached the break handle to the arm of my chair.  I could push down on it hard enough to retract the plunger and feed the tubing from my leg bag through the PVC pipe. 

It worked! 

Of course Ron said he had tested the contraption a bit beyond normal pressure to make sure it would work flawlessly since that was the objective of developing the new device in the first place.  As a matter of fact his testing involved inflating the tubing with compressed air to 30 psi (about the pressure in your car’s tires!) and checking the clamped end for any air leakage. 

With this new device, I could drain my leg bag whenever I needed.  It was a great Christmas present!  He gave me reliable freedom.

This was the first prototype. We didn’t know there were going to be two major revisions when it was built.  At the time it was just called ‘The Apparatus’. 

Prototype 1 performed pretty well for about four years. 

Corrosion killed it.  It was built mostly from PVC and nylon and designed to avoid direct contact with urine so we didn’t expect rust to be an issue.  It was not designed to avoid contact with Seattle rain.  After a few damp winters the spring was rusting away and the cable was hanging up occasionally.  The prototype worked well for longer than I’d expected, but it was time to go.

Refinement, Refinement, And More Refinement.

Ron  had a question:  Is there a market for such a device?  I knew there was a need, but I wasn’t sure how to reach the thousands of people who could benefit.  The internet was fairly new and paper publications served a pretty narrow audience.  So I had to tell him, “I don’t know.” 

Ron wasn’t looking to get rich, but he needed some return if he was going to invest more time, effort, and money in refining the device for people other than me.  Several people had asked him to create one for them, but the design wasn’t refined enough and making them by hand was labor intensive. 

By May, 2004 Ron had already invested hundreds of hours and a bunch of money for a patent and was a long way from breaking even.

Prototype 2 was machined from a single block of plastic, the plunger pressed against a metal pin for better compression on the tubing, and spring rate was adjustable.  It was more compact and used stainless steel components.  It looked pretty professional.  Unfortunately, it still used the bicycle brake handle to provide enough leverage to activate the unit.

Prototype 2 didn’t survive any longer than prototype 1.  I’d checked into the hospital for a minor procedure.  I didn’t realize that a nurse had wrapped the cable around the wheelchair frame.  I use a tilt-in-space mechanism for pressure relief.  I tilted back, seemed to meet resistance, and then I heard something breaking.  I sat up and rescued the device, but the cable was stretched and frayed, the spring was compressed and distorted, and the plunger was pulled so hard it somehow warped or twisted the plastic body.  It just goes to show, if you work at it you can break almost anything.

Prototype 2 might have been repaired, but by then Ron had met Gary.  Gary has experience in medical products manufacturing, distribution, and marketing.  Ron is a mechanical whiz, but he needed help in all these areas.  But Gary wasn’t just advising.  He raised a series of issues:  lighter weight, more portable, corrosion free, no accidental release and ease of manufacturing to reduce costs.  I’m sure they discussed a lot more, but the result was prototype 3, which has changed significantly since they started experimenting on me.  I’ve survived many revisions on the third prototype.

The biggest change is from push to pull.  It is harder for me to pull a cable to release, but it was necessary to accomplish their key goals to be universally adaptable to anybody’s wheelchair or walker configuration and yet easy to use even for a high level quadriplegic like me.  To minimize the pull, they found thin-wall tubing (even black so it’s more discrete), eliminated metal cables, increased the adjustability on the spring rate, used a bunch of materials to minimize friction and improved manufacturer tolerances.  Finally, they decided it was ready for sale.

A Name With Meaning.

When it came time to name the product, nothing sounded good.  Ron made an executive decision:  he made it for me, so it’s my initials and the third generation.  Someday there may be a JB-4, but it’s taken a long time to get here so don’t hold your breath.

I warned you that it was a long story.  Here’s the short version:  I’ve been blessed by my acquaintance with these guys.  They’re dedicated to quality and customer service.  This device isn’t for everyone, but I know they’ll do whatever they can to make it work for you if possible.

Sincerely, J.B.


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