Ron Edwards of Pryor, Okla., never expected to be the co-owner of a home business with his wife, Linda. With a 38-year career in banking, Ron, 59, was content to be a bank president.
In the fall of 2005, Ron began experiencing muscle weakness in his shoulders and arms, and after rotator cuff surgery in one shoulder, he continued to lose strength rapidly in both arms. In May 2006, he received a diagnosis of ALS.
“At that time, I was still working, and I had a very frustrating day,” Ron said. “I had taken a very important client out to dinner, and I got food all over myself. I got so worn out trying to eat.”
Humiliated and frustrated, Ron told Linda the next morning, “I can’t do this anymore.” Linda promised to find a way to help Ron feed himself.
After an exhaustive Internet search, Linda couldn’t find anything that would work. She and Ron also spoke with some occupational therapists, but they didn’t have a solution. In mid-May, Linda, an avid do-it-yourselfer, went to her workshop to build one.
The birth of 'The Arm Thing'
Ron recalls that Linda would pop into the house every few hours to see what he thought about her invention, and at the end of the day, she’d developed a working prototype.
|Linda and Ron Edwards
“Within 24 hours, he had a complete attitude change,” Linda said. “He could feed himself again and not be embarrassed.”
The Arm Thing supports the forearm with an armrest sized to fit the user. The forearm support rests on an aluminum channel and slide, which adjusts the vertical height of the forearm. The armpiece is connected to the aluminum base with a ball-and-socket connection, allowing a 360-degree rotation.
Linda and Ron got a lot of positive feedback from others with ALS who’d tried the device. And after some encouragement from Stanley H. Appel, director of the MDA/ALS Center at the Methodist Neurological Institute in Houston, and Anne Swisher, Houston’s MDA health care service coordinator, they decided to manufacture the device.
“It’s changed Ron’s life, and I want to be able to help others with ALS,” Linda said.
The Edwardses came up with a few professional names, but “nobody liked them, and everybody kept calling it the arm thing.”
Ron said, “It allows me to go out and be with my friends and family. Somebody has to put my arm in the device, but everybody’s used to it. It’s about having a life and maintaining my dignity.”
Making things easier
In August, Linda and Ron founded their new home business called MTE (Making Things Easier) Devices, with the goal of helping people with ALS and other physical disabilities “enjoy a better quality of life.”
To make the device more versatile, Linda measured everyone’s arm at her church and took the average size as the basis for each size category. She also tested the device on a wide variety of tables and took the average height of several tables.
Linda then met with an attorney and filed the patent once the lawyer determined that Linda was right — “there was nothing like it on the market even though it’s such a simple idea.”
Ron explained, “I’ve been impressed by Linda’s dogged determination in creating a product that not only will work for me, but will work for many other people.”
The current model of The Arm Thing, which is washable and easy to clean, separates into two pieces — the armpiece and the aluminum base with a nonskid surface — that are connected using a Teflon ball-and-socket. The armpiece, made of high-density plastic, has a glide to adjust the angle for different table heights. You secure the user’s arm to the device using two nylon straps with hook-and-loop attachments.
Hand-molded by Linda, the armpiece is available in five sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL), and the standard armpiece ($449) extends from the elbow to the wrist. As Ron became weaker, he needed more wrist support, so Linda designed an extended-wrist armpiece ($479) that reaches the palm of the hand. To order, you need to provide Linda with three measurements: forearm diameter, wrist diameter and forearm length.
“We’ve worked to improve the original model as Ron’s become weaker,” Linda said. “With the progression of ALS, we’ve learned that we have to keep adapting the product to make it work for everyone. If there’s a specific need, I’ll work to improve it and adapt it to help a person deal with a particular problem.”
Ron and Linda, who’ll celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary this year, agree that the device “has changed our lives.” And while a patent approval can take anywhere from one to five years, Linda and Ron decided to manufacture the device “because in five years there will be a lot of people that could have used it.”
Linda added tearfully, “I don’t want to wait five years. I don’t know if I’m going to have Ron in five years, and I want him to see that he helped someone else. I want Ron to know that he didn’t go through all of this for nothing.”