Interview with the Inventor
It may surprise people outside the radiology space, but until now, no one had ever made radiation apparel specifically for women. And it really is a big deal. Not only are flat, angular vests extremely uncomfortable for people with curves, a poor fit means a much lower level of protection. It’s no coincidence that women who work in radiology have considerably higher rates of breast cancer than women who do not.
HOW DENISE JOHNSON CAME TO CREATE THE PRINCESS VEST
Denise Johnson of ProtecX, Burlington Medical’s sister company in the United Kingdom, came to the industry with fresh eyes and saw a new solution to a longstanding problem.
Your background is very unique to the industry. Can you tell us about it?
I spent my whole life, nearly 40 years, in women’s fashion, from design to fitting and production. But for a long time, I was the “head of technical” for two fashion houses.
“Being the head of technical is all about construction, sewing and fit. How you engineer garments so they can be produced in a cost-effective manner.”
How did you switch from fashion to personal protective equipment?
A cup of coffee with a colleague!
I ran into someone I worked with years ago who became a leader at ProtecX, and they invited me to their facility for a cuppa. We got to talking, and he said that ProtecX was growing rapidly, making new designs, and introducing custom fits that are made to measure.
He asked me if I wanted to sign on as the production manager to improve development and efficiency. I said, “Why not, I enjoy a challenge.”
Is that the only reason you signed on, a good challenge?
No, I actually had a very personal reason as well.
My eldest Son has an Arteriovenous Malformation which resulted in an aneurysm. So, when he was 9 years old, he suffered a very serious brain hemorrhage.
Interventional Neuroradiologists at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London performed an embolization which saved his life. He has gone on to have further Stereotactic Radiosurgery treatment for the malformation too. I’m very happy to say, that due to this treatment, my son is now 23 years old.
“I took it for granted that the doctors would be there when I needed them, so given this opportunity, I thought it would be amazing to be involved in helping to protect the people who protected us.”
So what led you to create protection apparel specifically for women?
I started touring hospitals to talk to our customers, find out what they needed, what we were doing well, and what we could improve.
And I saw that female providers kept tucking their hands into their armholes. When I asked why, they said that nothing ever fitted well around their breasts, so they used the space like a pocket.
The more I learned about scatter radiation, the more I realized how dangerous that empty space could be. The question was, how do we turn the flat, protective inner material into a curved shape?
“I knew that if it hadn’t been done before, it wouldn’t be easy. But I had a fresh set of eyes that said we didn’t have to settle for that. We could do better.”
So how did you come up with the design?
In order to mold to the curves of the breasts and fit much closer to the armholes, we had to turn a flat, 2D material into a live 3D shape. So, after many attempts, I found that with careful engineering of the product, we could introduce bust suppression into the core materials.
The challenge is that once you cut lead, radiation can get through. So the trick that we came up with is the Princess Seam. It enables us to create a 3D shape while blocking radiation with the same efficacy of protection.
How have the results been?
Fantastic! Most importantly, the vest fits much closer to the breasts, armpits and axilla, which means better protection.
And then there’s other bonuses. Because the Princess Vest is so much more form fitting for women, it looks a lot less boxy and a lot more fashionable.
Ergonomically, the weight is evenly balanced across the shoulders. It’s just much more comfortable. The design also eliminates a lot of the overlap, which cuts the garment weight. Together, that greatly reduces musculoskeletal strain.
It’s being evaluated in hospitals across the UK and Italy and we’re now in the final stages of approval for commercial sales. The feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive!