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Acid Reflux Wedge: Pillow Inventor’s Story

Inventor photoAcid Reflux Patient Finds Relief & Starts an Online Business

It started in 2000 with a scratchy throat and laryngitis. I assumed I was getting a cold so I took a decongestant and drank hot tea. It didn’t work. My throat got worse and my voice almost disappeared. After a week of self-medicating and getting nowhere, it was time to call my internist. I was sure it was a strep throat; he would prescribe an antibiotic, and I would be cured. Instead, after a negative strep test, he sent me straight to an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. I got scared.

A GERD Diagnosis was Good News

At that point I was a 17 year breast cancer survivor and a five year ovarian cancer survivor. My antennae went up, along with my anxiety – I just wanted to have a strep throat. After some tests the ENT said, “No problems here, you have acid reflux.” Impossible, I assured him. I rarely have heartburn or those other symptoms. He ignored my MDL degree (doctor of motherly learning) and directed me to a gastroenterologist. Yes indeed, I had GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease). “Your esophagus and throat are being irritated at night by acid coming up. Take this prescription and sleep elevated on a wedge pillow.” Fine, I replied, where do I get the pillow? His answer? “I don’t know.” I started the medication and got on the Internet.

Mild Acid Reflux can be Controlled by Gravity!

After several days of research, here’s what I learned: EVERY AUTHORITY HAD THE SAME SUGGESTIONS: a) sleep with your head elevated 6-8 inches; b) make sure your ENTIRE upper torso is supported on an angle, and c) avoid certain foods. With no chocolate to calm my nerves (good for the girl, bad for the GERD), it was time to enlist the help of our younger son, then a radiology resident, who sent me to a few obscure medical sites that confirmed the research conclusions:
The simple answer appeared to be gravity!

When I thought about it, it was so logical. Acid reflux happens when a muscle at the base of the esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter, relaxes and, instead of preventing acid from coming back up the esophagus as it should, it allows acid to “reflux” or go back up, thus causing irritation. So if the acid were kept down, the irritation would lessen and not be a problem. Methodically I began the hunt for a wedge pillow.

I felt like Goldilocks. This one was too uncomfortable. Too inconvenient. Too expensive. But mostly, they were ALL TOO SHORT. Because the lower esophageal sphincter muscle is AT THE BASE OF THE BREASTBONE you need to be supported THROUGH YOUR ENTIRE TORSO. So 24″ isn’t long enough. And I didn’t want to disturb my husband by elevating our bed on blocks. Have you tried putting pillows between the mattress and box spring on your side of the bed only? I did, and accomplished nothing except making a lop-sided bed!

Knowing What to Buy was Easy — Finding It was Difficult

I knew what I needed, I just couldn’t find it: a foam triangle, 6-8 inches high at the top and at least 30″ long. At my wit’s ‘end, my husband finally solved my problem with a simple suggestion: call our neighbor who designs and manufactures pillows.

Dissatisfied with Wedge Pillows on the Market We Developed One that Not Only Works but Folds for Easy Travel and Storage!

Right away he agreed. Seems many customers had asked if he made an acid reflux pillow, “and now I can say YES.” We discussed dimensions and came up with just the right size and shape. It worked! After several nights sleeping on my MedSlant wedge, I felt much better. Of course, the medicine had also helped, but it was expensive and I would much prefer a life style change to medicine.

I stopped taking the pills but after a week, my symptoms reappeared. I resumed the medicine and continued sleeping on my wedge. After three weeks using my pillow and avoiding some acid-producing foods, I was able to stop medication. Eleven years later, my symptoms have not returned.

Meantime, I had given wedges to a friend with reflux and her husband who has sleep apnea. Both were helped. We improved the washable, poly/cotton cover, rippled the foam for comfort and coolness and we knew we were ready for testing and evaluations by volunteers, who appeared from everywhere. Friends referred friends; my gastroenterologist gave them to patients and we were on our way. When I took some forms to the printer, the girl who helped me asked hopefully, “I have a horrible time with acid reflux. Could I please try it?” A week later she called to tell me it was great, but could she please have another sample? Her manager was pregnant and having terrible reflux. I learned from my gynecologist that pregnancy- related reflux can practically be eliminated by sleeping on a wedge. And a pediatrician had an infant and a two-year-old with reflux. We gave her two wedges and she reported that they helped tremendously.

The MedSlant Wedge Pillow Was a Hit!

We now had more than 80 pillows being tested and all were getting rave reviews; but there was still one more wrinkle to be ironed out. When I traveled with my husband for his clothing business, without my pillow for 3-4 nights, my symptoms would reappear. I tried taking it along, rolling up the pillow with rubber bands. Nothing worked. So we decided to make it fold. We tried Velcro, glue, fabric strips. The pillow still didn’t fold.

Finally we fashioned a fabric hinge cover for two pieces of foam that allows them to fold, yet act as one piece when open. Perfect! We now had a pillow that provided drug free night-time relief. And we added a zippered, handled, travel bag for go-anywhere convenience. With a United States patent in our pocket, we built a web site.

An Online Business was Born

People began emailing or calling us to tell us how it had helped and referred friends. They told their doctors who recommended MedSlant to patients. My research had showed that sleeping on a wedge had other benefits too; reduced or eliminated snoring, relief from nasal congestion and asthma symptoms, and easier breathing for heart patients. And my own family is much better, young and old. My husband no longer snores, so we both sleep better. Our granddaughter has asthma, and by sleeping on a pillow, she breathes more easily and no longer wakes up with puffy eyes. Our kids use them when they have colds, and our daughter found it so comfortable she sleeps on it regularly, just for the fun of it. Of course the wedge pillow is not a cure all. Many of the diseases and conditions it helps also need professional advice and medication.

The Simple Solution is often the Best

We tried embellishing our product – memory foam, other bells and whistles – but the only difference seemed to be adding to the cost. We did make one improvement-each piece of foam now sports a zippered cover besides the easily removable washable cover. All along, my husband reminded me of that business adage – KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid. The simple fact is, it takes gravity to keep acid down and airways open. So, in helping me, we created a product that is simple, affordable, and helpful–because IT WORKS. I am grateful that, through my struggle, I can now help other people improve the quality of their lives. Enjoy it in good health!

Adele Camens
Co-owner and inventor MedSlant LLC