At Their Fingertips
Nonin Medical's patented wireless medical device aids in the October rescue of 33 trapped Chilean miners.
In 1995, Nonin Medical founder Phil Isaacson invented the world's first fingertip pulse oximeter to remotely monitor a patient's blood oxygen saturation levels without wires, and from anywhere in the world. Today, his company's TEKNE award-winning pulse oximeter products are
used by hospitals, doctors and military field medics, and accompany every climbing group to the top of Mount Everest.
In October, Nonin's fingertip pulse oximeters were again challenged to work under extreme conditions, this time half a mile below ground in a Copiapo, Chile mine where 33 miners had been trapped since August 5.
While Nonin does sell its products to end users, it also sells them to OEMs as components of larger physiological monitoring systems. One such OEM customer is Zephyr Technology, which incorporated Nonin Medical's Onyx® II 9560 pulse oximeter model into an extremely compact
Physiological Status Monitoring system used by the miners. As part of the system, the Onyx® II 9560 pulse oximeter, which is worn and completely contained on the index finger, wirelessly transmits blood oxygen saturation and heart rate data via Bluetooth® technology to the rest of
the Zephyr PSM system, which in turn sends all data via Bluetooth® to a computer for remote monitoring.
The PSM systems were lowered through a four-inch wide pipe to the miners more than 2,000 feet below to remotely capture each miner's body metrics, including blood oxygenation and heart rate data provided by Nonin's product, in real time during their individual ascents in an
escape shaft. The information helped doctors at the surface to assess each miner's condition during the 20-minute journey, and to quickly determine and prepare the best course of treatment so that it could begin as soon as possible after each miner's safe arrival.
Isaacson is grateful that his company's products were able to aid in rescue efforts. Before the dawn of the fingertip pulse oximeter model, he recalls pulse oximeters of the 1980s weighing about 20 pounds, with a fingertip sensor attached to a cable, which ran to a box
containing the electronics, battery and display. Nonin's first model weighed only two pounds, the result of reducing the number of necessary parts. Models have since continued to reduce in size and weight; Nonin's smallest fingertip pulse oximeter weighs less than two ounces.
Prior to the rescue, no one in recorded history had ever survived so long after being trapped underground. Isaacson says knowing Nonin products assisted in the rescue efforts has been rewarding for employees throughout the company.
"It's very gratifying for the company as a whole to be part of this [rescue effort]. I think in the future going forward, the good feeling and goodwill that it brings to the company is important. Very much this was an affirmation that our products are doing the sorts of
things that we expect them to do," Isaacson says.