When a kidney infection caused an overnight decline in Donna Jeffrey’s father’s health, the former broadcasting representative and recruitment manager took charge of his care, quickly finding that one of their biggest challenges was maintaining his personal hygiene while preserving his independence.
“I saw how difficult it was for him to take care of his own daily hygiene needs,” she said. “This was a man who could sit with a tray in front of him after he had lost his eyesight and shave himself, but we could not figure out a good way to get him in and out of the shower.”
Following her father’s passing in 2009, Donna opened a non-medical in-home care agency to help families experiencing similar challenges and discovered that she and her father were not alone in these challenges. Most of her clients faced issues like pain, back pain, loss of balance, arthritis, or weight gain that made it hard to properly clean the “nooks and crannies” even when using traditional bath chairs to support their stability. Many were too embarrassed to ask for help, while others feared that bathing independence would not be regained once lost. Urinary tract infections were unfortunately common, putting patients at risk for kidney infection due to hygiene issues.
When people feel confident and safe taking care of themselves, it not only benefits the person using [a product], but gives their loved ones peace of mind.– Donna Jeffrey, Originator of the AquaChair Bathing System
As a result of these experiences, Donna began envisioning what she thought of as a “personal cleansing/care unit” — an all-in-one chair that combined the non-slip legs, stable seating, and side-transfer capabilities of traditional bath transfer benches, while making it easier for users to clean the perineal area effectively by featuring an opening in the seat and a built-in bidet. When she could not find anything on the market that matched her vision, Jeffrey took matters into her own hands, sketching up an initial design for the product herself. She then contacted the Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Engineering for assistance.
The school selected the idea to be a part of a program challenging students to develop product ideas into a functional prototype and proof-of-concept. Soon a group of mechanical engineering and industrial design students were researching, designing, and building an early version of the product alongside Donna. They also tested the product with local seniors to obtain product feedback. While the users themselves responded positively to the chair, Donna said it was often their family members who saw the most significant benefit.
“People who had already been on the market for a shower chair for their loved ones saw the value these extra features that really get the job done could bring to their lives,” she said.
The “SPADANAE” — as an early iteration of the chair was called — won the prize for best industrial design in the challenge. At that point, Donna felt that proof-of-concept was complete and began to speak with design groups and manufacturers about bringing the product to market. Her son Devin Jeffrey reached out to Drive DeVilbiss Healthcare online, and Donna was soon in touch with our teams to pursue a partnership to explore the next phase of its development. Over the next two years, we refined, prototyped, and tested the AquaChair, adding user-friendly improvements including removable arms, a rust-resistant frame with an antimicrobial-treated backrest, an improved control panel, and a retractable bidet nozzle and guard for a more sanitary experience.
As the PreserveTech™ AquaChair Bathing System and its optional Splash Defense™ Transfer Accessory become available to the public and healthcare facilities in the weeks to come, Jeffrey says she feels the release has given her a chance to honor both her father and the families she worked with in homecare.
“It is really about empowering independence as long as you can, because it’s very tough to get it back once it’s surrendered,” she said. “When people feel confident and safe taking care of themselves, it not only benefits the person using it, but gives their loved ones peace of mind.”