Article, Research and Innovation

When Frustration Leads to a Better Way

September 24, 2019

When Dr. Steve Moulton frequently overheard nurses and parents complaining about issues related to securing and maintaining transabdominal feeding tubes, he realized there must be a better way. So he developed the Button Huggie, a first-of-its-kind gastrostomy button securement solution that prevents common complications like dislodgement.

Sometimes innovation originates from a spark of inspiration. Other times, it’s borne out of frustration.

When Dr. Steve Moulton frequently overheard nurses and parents complaining about a multitude of issues related to securing and maintaining gastrostomy buttons, he realized there must be a better way.

A gastrostomy button or “g-button” is a surgically placed device that allows nutrition or medication to be delivered directly into a patient’s stomach. G-buttons are mainly used for kids who have trouble eating or swallowing to assist with weight gain, nutrition and hydration — all with the goal of helping improve a patient’s quality of life.

“I have always thought that frustration, or the identification of problems, is really an opportunity,” says Dr. Moulton, who is the director of the pediatric trauma and burn programs at Children’s Hospital Colorado and the Colorado Firefighters Endowed Chair for Burn and Trauma Care.

A Common Procedure with Costly Complications

Placing a g-button is one of the most common surgical procedures performed on children. Unfortunately, Emergency Room visits and hospital readmissions after placement are also common and costly.

G-buttons are supposed to make things easier on patients, but it’s difficult to keep the skin around a g-button clean without affecting its placement. Parents are taught to place a gauze pad under their child’s g-button and secure the device with four strips of tape that are fashioned into a tic-tac-toe pattern.

The dressing must be changed once a day — sometimes more often — and requires the tape to be peeled off the skin, which can be uncomfortable and irritating. Frequent dressing changes can cause the button to move inside the gastrostomy tract, causing a host of complications including pain, leaking, infections, scarring and even dislodgement.

With more than 2,000 g-buttons being placed or replaced each year at Children’s Colorado — and no good way to keep the site clean and device secure — it’s no wonder Dr. Moulton kept hearing about issues with them.

“I realized that tape and gauze were not an adequate solution for securingthese devices,” he says. “I kept thinking to myself, there must be a way to fix this problem.”

When Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough

Dr. Moulton has always enjoyed working with problems until he eventually teases out a solution. That drive to answer unmet needs led him to form two companies to commercialize other innovations. His newest innovation is the Button Huggie, a g-button securement device the size of a small matchbox.

The Button Huggie is far superior to tape and gauze because it uses a reusable lid and long-wearing base layer with skin-friendly adhesive to prevent the g-button from moving inside the gastrostomy tract. It is easy to use and maintain, simplifying care, and the design prevents dislodgement and other complications, while also reducing health care costs.

Dr. Moulton worked with a group of graduate engineering students from the University of Colorado to develop the device and create a series of prototypes for clinical testing. With support from the Center for Innovation, he founded his third company, Ezalife, LLC, with the intent to manufacture and sell the Button Huggie.

An Award-Winning Solution

The Button Huggie has won several innovation awards, including the top honor at the 2019 Children’s Colorado Pediatric Innovation Challenge. The $40,000 grand prize is providing critical funding while the product moves through the final design phase.

To validate the device’s effectiveness, Dr. Moulton will soon launch a 12-week randomized control trial with 200 patients at Children’s Colorado and Phoenix Children’s Hospital comparing the old “tic-tac-toe” dressing method to the Button Huggie. The Button Huggie is expected to be available for distribution by the end of 2019.

“I believe the Button Huggie is going to revolutionize the care and management of g-buttons,” says Dr. Moulton.