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Combat Medical thinks changes to kits would save lives, money

Harrisburg firm Combat Medical has a mission: to save lives on the battlefield.

The company, with a workforce that is about one-third military veterans, manufactures some of the supplies that go in first-aid kits used by the United States military. The kits are known as Department of Defense Individual First Aid Kits.

Company officials believe that by simplifying medical aid on the battlefield, you give soldiers – even those with the lowest level of aid training – the ability to save lives.

“We want to reduce combat mortality. That is our goal,” said CEO Lisa Tweardy.

But they also want to save the government money, she said, by streamlining the process of assembling and sterilizing the supplies used in the kits.

Tweardy said the supplies, such as wound seals and compression wraps for severe injuries, come from a variety of suppliers. Each individual item has a separate expiration date, which means that the individual components must be replaced separately, thereby increasing overall costs.

Some components in the kits have only a 2  1/2-year shelf life due to the materials they use. The Sentinel Chest Seal, developed by Combat Medical, has a shelf life of five years.

Company officials want to coordinate with the other suppliers to package and sterilize all the components at one time. This way, the entire contents of the kit will have the same expiration date.

“We’ll not only save lives by improving the clinical capability but also we can improve shelf life,” said Tweardy. “Doubling the shelf life of the kit will save the government a significant amount of money.”

Combat Medical was founded in Fayetteville seven years ago by a team of experienced military medical personnel and industry product specialists who wanted to simplify battlefield medicine.

When the company expanded, it was drawn to Harrisburg by the availability of suppliers and the access to Sterigenics in Charlotte for sterilization, Tweardy said. The move enabled the company to assemble and package its products on-site, starting in October.

Jason Cauley, vice president of business development, served in Army special operations from 2001 to 2011. He said they would also like to see the packaging changed, along with the layout inside the kits.

“The closer you can move the intervention to the point of injury, the better chance you have to save lives,” Cauley said. “If you are going into that kit, it is because you are having a very bad day.”

Cauley said he knows from firsthand experience that when you are under fire and trying to save a life, you need to be able to find what you need fast, so the packaging should be color-coded, he said.

In addition, the information on the packaging should be changed to make the manufacturer information smaller and the directions larger, with large pictures to demonstrate how to use items.

And Cauley said he would also like the kits to be laid out in order of priority, either left to right or top to bottom, so that anyone using the kit would know where to find each item. Currently, the components are not placed in any order.

Chris Murphy is the vice president of research and development, as well as a special ops medic reservist – commonly known as a medic – currently out of state training for deployment. Having his background and expertise on the battlefield helps the company see where needs exist.

“We look at gaps in care and develop products to meet those shortcomings,” said Tweardy. “When we find a good product for those gaps, we bring in other vendors, like the iTClamp from Innovative Trauma Care.”

The clamp is used to close an open wound where a tourniquet isn’t practical.

The company is currently in meetings with members of Congress and the Department of Defense, pushing for these changes to the first-aid kits.

“I haven’t had anybody look me in the eye and say, ‘Hey, this just doesn’t work,’ ” said Cauley. “Getting people to stop looking at individual products, pieces and parts, and start looking at the kit as a whole and what intervention it will provide, is the challenge,” he said.