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Innovation in neonatal medicine

Health: Local company NeoTech Products has helped to revolutionize health care for fragile newborns

Posted: August 14, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 14, 2011 1:55 a.m.

The new sign for NeoTech Products sits on the front lawn.

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The life and welfare of many newborns are often in the hands of Santa Clarita company NeoTech Products.

Babies born pre-term, weighing anywhere from less than 1 to a few pounds at birth often fit in the palm of one’s hand.

Fragile newborns are whisked away to neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs, and hurriedly hooked up to any number of lifesaving machines and monitors.

A company is born
Founded by the former chief of staff of St. Joseph’s of Burbank hospital, Dr. Arnold Heyman, and Tom Thornbury, owner of a medical manufacturing company, NeoTech began with one product in 1987.

By the mid-90s, the company had ventured into the world of critical medical care for newborns having developed its first baby-related product, an aspirator to clear the lungs.

Today, NeoTech owns its own operation center in the Valencia Industrial Park, distributing products to hospitals in all 50 states and throughout 35 countries.

With 25 different products, the company sells millions of units every year.

Privately held, the company has achieved double-digit growth each year over the past 10 years, said Thornbury, president of NeoTech.

And next year, the company will celebrate its 25th anniversary.

First product
The Meconium Aspirator was the first device created to suction the bile, mucus and amniotic fluid out of a baby’s lungs, replacing the time-worn practice of sucking the fluids through a tube much like siphoning gas from a car’s gas tank.

With the advent of AIDS and HIV infected babies, medical workers were seeking an alternative method.

The aspirator was NeoTech’s first product, and that patented product was the first of its kind on the market.

It’s a famous product that really has saved lives for over 20 years,” said Craig McCrary, vice president and COO of NeoTech.

Niche market
Try fitting a blood-pressure cuff on a premature baby, whose arm may be no larger than one’s thumb.

Compound the problem with oversized needles, tubes, catheters, electrodes for monitors and aspirators to clear lungs, and you have a crisis in emergency medical care.

Prior to the development of products adapted to fit premature babies just a few decades ago, many infants died shortly after birth.

By 2010, 12 percent, or more than 523,000 of all newborns were born early according to the U.S. Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control.

According to the March of Dimes, 10 to 15 percent of babies born in the U.S. ever year are treated in NICUs.

“Because of technology and fertility drugs, the market has changed, and there is more demand than ever,” McCrary said.

Market driven
NeoTech’s success can be attributed to the way the company develops and distributes products.

All ideas come from medical professionals in the NICU field. NeoTech works with the professionals to design, develop, build a prototype and extensively test each product through clinical trials.

Once in the marketplace, NeoTech waits at least six months to get additional feedback from California medical practitioners before launching a new product marketwide.

Each product is patented and the medical professional who originated the concept shares in the royalties once the product comes to market.

Shunning traditional sales methods, NeoTech hosted its first worldwide Webinar seminar this week demonstrating a noninvasive oxygen therapy device.

But the company primarily works with health care professionals in the field to educate and demonstrate products in hospitals and trade shows around the world.

“We were just inundated with NICU nurses at our first trade show in 1997,” McCrary said.

Products
NeoTech produces an array of products, many of the same products in multiple sizes to accommodate any newborn infant’s needs.

First to market with many products, NeoTech distributes phototherapy eye shields, pulse oximeters to measure the oxygen levels in the blood, electrodes small enough to fit any sized infant, endotracheal tubes and more.

Aware that adhesive tapes often cause burns on sensitive newborn skin, all products such as catheter and tube holders use a silicone gel to both adhere to and protect the newborn skin.

For emergency technicians who often ran into problems with the electrodes for monitoring devices, NeoTech came to the rescue yet again.

The infants were so small that the electrodes often obstructed the view of vital organs in X-ray or brain scans.

Working with a nurse in Detroit, NeoTech invented radiolucent, or translucent, electrodes that do not show up in the test results.

Today, the company produces nine variations of the product to meet the requirements of varying medical devices in any country.

“The company is now on the road to dominating the market with electrodes,” Heyman said.

“But when we go home at night we know we have saved lives,” Thornbury said.

Locally made, shipped
Focused on quality products, NeoTech only manufactures its products in the United States.

“We have vendors in Valencia that handle the plastic molding for us,” Heyman said.

And the vendors are listed as “manufacturers of record” with FDA to ensure the integrity and safety of each product by complying with all FDA regulations, Thornbury said.

With a heart
“A NICU nurse called from St. Joseph’s needing micro leads one Friday and couldn’t wait for shipping over the weekend,” Heyman said.

“So I got in my car immediately and drove down to the hospital with a couple of boxes.”

Parents have also called the company desperate for suctioning devices.

“We’ve shipped supplies out free of charge, as a courtesy,” Thornbury said.

In other cases, insurance plans won’t pay for more than one particular product per week, when the parents need to use one on a daily basis. Again, the company has stepped in to help frantic parents.

Keeping it light
As serious as these products are to saving a life, the company gives light-hearted names to every product to minimize some of the stress associated with the care of each critically ill infant.

Eye shields to protect jaundiced newborns in phototherapy were named “shades,” after stylish designer sunglasses.

Santa Clarita
NeoTech partners believe the best move they ever made was in relocating to Santa Clarita six years ago, even though the move forces Heyman and Thornbury to commute into the SCV each day.

The quality and caliber of the employees locally are so much better than when the company was located in the San Fernando Valley, said all three managing partners.

“This is the best decision we ever made to move out here,” Thornbury said.

Many employees have remained with the company for years.

Enjoying life
Although it began with only one product, NeoTech now enjoys worldwide distribution of its products.

There have been a couple attempts by outsiders to buy the company, but Heyman said the principals have refused because “we’re having too much fun.”

“We have two rules here,” Thornbury said. “Make money and have fun.”

And NeoTech doesn’t just pay lip service to that last rule.

The newborn sign
When Newhall Land told the company last fall its sign did not meet the CC&R requirements, the company embarked on a nine month journey to budget for and develop a new sign for the front of their headquarters.

Then the city of Santa Clarita got involved because the sign is mounted on a base in the ground in front of the building. As a result, it had to be placed so many feet from the curb.

After spending several months and thousands of dollars designing and re-designing the sign, size, graphics, colors, base and placement, NeoTech finally secured a green light from all parties involved.

The company principals found the whole process so humorous, they decided to hold a sign christening with a bottle of champagne after the approved sign went up.

“It got to be so funny waiting for the next change we’d have to make,” Heyman said.

“It was a good nine months waiting for ‘our baby’ to be born, and it didn’t have to go to the NICU.”

NeoTech is located at 27822 Fremont Court, Valencia and can be reached at (661) 775-7466.  Products can be viewed at www.neotechproducts.com.

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