Anyone who has to use a wheelchair regularly is at risk of injury from poor circulation. Kalogon believes it can reduce this common but potentially life-threatening condition with a smart pillow that prevents any part of the body from being compressed for too long — and it’s already caught the attention of the VA.
Pressure ulcers occur when part of the body cannot get enough blood and the tissue begins to die. Most people have experienced its onset, such as something clinging to a finger and cutting off blood flow, but it’s not always so external, painful, or obvious.
“Especially if they have reduced sensation, almost anyone who sits for an extended period of time is at risk for pressure ulcers,” said Tim Balz, founder and CEO of Kalogon.
Certainly, the shift to remote working has everyone wondering if sitting too long is somehow harmful to their bodies. But this goes way beyond a sore back; people who can’t get up and stretch, or feel the pressure or pain that could indicate a real problem, are at risk for serious damage. Pressure ulcers affect millions and kill thousands of people every year.
The solution, in theory, is to reduce the pressure on the various parts of the body that are most affected – essentially the buttocks, thighs and tailbone.
This can be done by the person if he can remember to “discharge” by leaning in this way for a few minutes to release the pressure, then do it again on the other side, then forward, etc. – and do it constantly. Unsurprisingly, adherence to this type of self-care is not particularly high.
Getting a shaped pillow is a step up – you buy an expensive foam pillow and then have it shaved or compressed to fit the contours of your body. But Balz pointed out that this only works for a short time – your body changes and the pillow doesn’t, so after a month or two you have to adjust it again: expensive and time-consuming.
More recently, clever adjacent cushions have been made of a pair of intertwined cushions that are filled and deflated in sequence, alternating so that the pressure is not always in one place. These may be better, but the problem with them is that they can still build up pressure on pain points because the area of pressure relief is small. And as Balz noted, “the probability of injury to an IT versus a thigh is like an order of magnitude difference, so there’s no point in treating them the same.”
Kalogon’s solution, a pillow called the Orbiter, has five distinct regions, corresponding to the tailbone and the left and right thighs and buttocks in general. By keeping four of the five inflated, the user is adequately supported and an entire area is relieved. A few minutes later, it slowly shifts that pressure to the next region, and so on.
Here is a diagram of the pressure being redistributed from the tailbone to elsewhere (darker and green means higher pressure:
“If you sit on it, we have a basic machine learning algorithm that does its best in the default settings to adapt to your body, but you can adapt it to your body,” Balz said, using a companion app or with the help from a healthcare professional or doctor. After setting the normal order, the pillow also monitors the pressure on the different regions so that it can shift differently if the user leans forward or sideways for longer than usual (for example, typing or dozing).
“Having 5 cells that are independently controllable allows us to move one at a time and fine-tune that movement – supporting the body but dropping one of the cells. If you look at a pressure map, you can see that the pressure drops below the general acceptable threshold,” he continued.
The whole is powered by a battery and pump unit that clips onto the wheelchair and has enough power to last 14-16 hours at default settings (weight redistribution every 3 minutes). Users have complimented the Orbiter as a huge improvement over regular or semi-smart pillows. One said he could sit in his chair for four hours without discomfort, which he hadn’t done in years.
You can see how it is set up and demonstrated in the video below:
Despite the rave reviews, it’s hard to prove the efficacy of this type of setup, Balz admitted, because there’s just not much clinical data on it yet. While there are generally agreed upon beneficial practices, such as pressure relief, there is no single international board of pillow testers evaluating these things. While the company has conducted numerous case studies with users, there is no major study that says the pillow reduces risk by a certain percentage. However, they can say that it has a similar effect to unloading, which is a good practice, everyone agrees.
That said, the VA took a shot at Kalogon in a few cases where there was a serious risk or pre-existing injury, and Balz said they’ve been very happy with the bet dozens of times. While the results aren’t official enough to be published, the fact that the VA is ordering more and collaborating with them on a study using the device indicates confidence.
The pillow launched in February for $2,000 and is classified as a medical device that can be paid for in various ways, although it is not yet covered by insurance or Medicare or anything like that. That’s in the cards, Balz hopes, but for now they’re focusing on the “dozens” of VA centers that Orbiters actively recommend. Of course, there are many veterans who could use the product, and having a VA doctor endorsing it makes it more affordable.
Kalogon just raised $3.3 million in seed funding led by DeepWork Capital, SeenFundersOrlando and VenVelo, with additional investments from Sawmill Angels. It has also raised federal grant money from the US Air Force (make that what you will). The funding will go towards scaling the business and of course meeting demand.