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Marketplace

Sycamore man invents cooling helmet to prevent head, spinal injuries among football players

Sycamore man invents cooling helmet to prevent head, spinal injuries among football players

SYCAMORE – Bob Harty wants every mom in the world to be able to afford proper protection for their kids, whether they’re playing football, soccer, baseball or hockey, and he’s making it his personal mission to do so.

Harty, 65, of Sycamore, is a retired 25-year paramedic who spent his last few years in the field working on the South Side of Chicago for the Chicago Fire Department. He treated many concussions and sports injuries, which he said are preventable with the products he’s working on as chief executive officer of his Sycamore-based company, Impact Logic, at 215 W. Elm St. He’s an inventor and has patents in cooling, protective head gear and neck gear, and is trying to bring them to mainstream markets for use.

“The heat in the helmet is causing many of the concussions, extending the damage related to the concussions, and heatstroke,” Harty said Monday. “I initially started designing medical and safety products, and have been patenting since 1995. I just probably think way too much.”

Impact Logic is focusing on six products for professional and amateur athletes, including a cooling helmet. He said the key to the products’ success is understanding what happens to the brain during play.

“Your brain expands and contracts just like any other organ in the body,” he said. “You have cerebral spinal fluid that your brain floats in, and as you heat up, either from environmental conditions or a workout or perhaps both, the brain swells.”

When the brain swells, cerebral spinal fluid is pushed out from the space between the brain and the skull and down into the spinal column, Harty said. The expanded brain is then closer to the skull, which means that an impact – common in football and other sports – can be all the more serious because the heat in the helmet impacts the brain’s ability to protect itself.

Harty said he’s been in contact with Dr. Stephen Duma, a neurologist based out of Virginia Tech, who also happens to be on the NFL’s Head, Neck, and Spine Committee, and Boston-based neurologist Dr. Robert Cantu, head of the NFL committee. Both are interested in Harty’s product and want to test it for him, Harty said.

The cooling helmet is made of silicone gel capsules, 1¼ inches in diameter, and ¾ inches thick, that are preset to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The capsules surround the entire head, to be used as a liner for a football helmet.

“The cooling gel capsules do two things,” Harty said. “They cool the brain, which helps keep the CSF fluid flowing. And also, Einstein mentioned the best thing on the planet to absorb energy is liquid. So the gel within the capsules will cool the head and brain and absorb the energy from each hit.”

Teams can keep the helmets in a cooler on the sidelines, and put them on under their normal helmets. After about 45 minutes, Harty said they can get up to 80 degrees just from use, but then be exchanged for a cooler helmet and placed back in the sideline coolers to reset the temperature.

Duma’s research indicates that the temperature inside most football helmets ranges from 115 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. A brain starts to overheat at 102 degrees.

Though he prefers to think of himself more as an “idea man” instead of an inventor, patenting and product-making are part of Harty’s family history. His grandfather David Frederick Hambrick invented the hydraulic autopilot for commercial and private aircraft. Hambrick was the assistant director of engineering at Boeing and also co-invented the flight simulator. Harty’s uncle is William Harty, who, with an ad agency, created the Keebler Elves.

“My dad always said ‘Two bucks and a patent will get you a bus ticket,’” Harty quipped. He’s working to bring his patented products to market.

He’s already found an investor in Naperville, as well as former Sycamore Mayor Jim Edwards, who is a shareholder in the company, and owns the Elm Street building, as well as DNA Holistic Center.

“When Bob spoke more about it, I started listening with both ears instead of one,” Edwards said. “It was about how can we make it better? How can we make people safer?”

Harty also is working on throat protectors that can attach to hockey helmets to prevent injuries from flying pucks. He’s got attachments in the works for bicycle helmets to help prevent spinal injuries. And he’s also patented NekProtek, an attachment to the cooling helmet that allows players to quickly cool the base of their necks to prevent heatstroke. He hopes to sell the NekProteks at $60 a pop, cooling helmets at $125 to $175 a pop and other gear to area sports agencies. He’s already contracting with hockey rinks in Batavia, Romeoville and Crestwood.

“I want every mom in the world to be able to afford it, especially if they’re a single mom.” he said.

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