Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
May 15, 2022 | Tom Ballard

TJ O’Neil named SBA’s “2022 Tennessee Inventor of the Year”

Terrence (TJ) O’Neil, Founder of HD Clean LLC in Johnson City, has been named the “2022 Tennessee Inventor of the Year” by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Tennessee District Office. The Emeritus Nephrologist with the Veterans Administration was notified of the honor in a letter (TN Inventor of Year 2022.jpg) from LaTanya Channel, District Director for the Volunteer State, dated May 5.

“Your hard work, innovative ideas, and dedication to your community helped you design an outstanding and much-needed invention for dialysis patients,” she wrote in her letter. In a handwritten addition to the formal letter, Channel added this comment following a conversation with O’Neil: “Your passion is evident and lives are and will continue to be saved.”

As noted in our March 11, 2021 article about O’Neil’s work, he got “sick and tired” of telling people on dialysis that they had incurred an infection in their heart valves resulting from contamination of the central venous catheter (CVC) line connection or having to transfuse blood because of bleeding due to an unintentional line disconnection during treatment.

Then, an observation he made during a routine shopping trip with his wife to Walmart provided the inspiration for a potentially lifesaving solution to the issue. It was a “snap-on” cover to keep toothbrush bristles clean and dry. As soon as O’Neil saw the cover, he thought, “This is the answer.”

Over several years, the Emeritus Nephrologist has continued to work on the device and shared his journey of utilizing many assistance providers and an AFWERX Phase I Small Business Innovation Research award during the recent “Spring 2022 Small Business Innovation Conference” organized by the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Procurement Technical Assistance Program, a component of the Center for Industrial Services.

In that March 2021 article, O’Neil said there are 100,000 patients in the U.S. at any one time using central venous catheters for hemodialysis treatments. “Each of these patients dialyzes three times a week or 156 treatments a year. Sticky tape is the current standard of care. There is currently no product on the market mitigating both catheter disconnect risk as well as providing a way to reduce CVC/line connection-point contamination that can result in sepsis.”

How pervasive are these two issues? O’Neil says there are an estimated 700 disconnects annually, usually because the nurses are in a hurry and don’t get it done correctly. There’s also the fact that the connections can fail as a result of too many uses. In addition, O’Neil says about 20,000 infections annually can be attributed to contamination from the tape.

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