The Gutsy Port, created by Charlotte Böhning, is a revolutionary medical port design that enables bag-free moments for ostomates.
About one million people in the U.S. and nearly 14 million globally are ostomates, relying on a plastic bag connected to a stoma in their abdomen to eliminate bodily waste. Ostomy surgery is life-saving and necessary, and it takes time to adjust to the new way of living. Though the ostomy bag provides an enormous quality-of-life improvement, and people can live wonderfully happy lives, the design originated in the 1950s and hasn’t evolved much since.
Charlotte Böhning, an industrial designer in Brooklyn, New York, recognized the need and desire for ostomates to gain more autonomy and control over their stomas and even have bag-free moments. Her close friend received life-saving ostomy surgery at 26 and has been living as an ostomate for roughly six years. Böhning was halfway through her master’s program at the Pratt Institute when she decided to explore alternate solutions for her friend.
“After many conversations, I started thinking, what could be next in a world so advanced? Why can’t we apply new technologies, additive manufacturing, and a custom approach to ostomy care?” said Böhning.
She went through many prototyping phases with low-fidelity materials, such as cardboard, chipboard, and plasticine, to see what potential parts and wearables could look like. After consulting with ostomates worldwide on shape and form, she moved to 3D printing for more high-fidelity models.
While in school, Böhning had easy access to 3D scanners and printers, but the transition after graduation proved challenging. She was on her own with a new idea — the Gutsy Port — that could improve the lives of millions, yet she quickly found that ideas can get expensive, so she explored different options.
Böhning entered the Gutsy Port into the James Dyson Award contest, an international design award program that celebrates, encourages, and inspires the next generation of design engineers. Each year, a national winner is selected and receives a cash prize. In addition, runner-ups are named, and all three move to the next round to be considered for the international top 20 best inventions.
Böhning won this year’s U.S.A. award and was named in the International Top 20. She plans to use the cash prize to make the Gutsy Port a reality for the 14 million ostomates around the world.
“We all hear about human-centered design — it’s sort of a buzzword — but it’s so critical to make sure that you’re capturing the needs of people you’re designing for,” said Böhning. “I’m really inspired by Patricia Moore. She’s an amazing pioneer in industrial and universal design, and she was the first of the publicized designers to do bodystorming, where you’re trying to fully experience or get as close to the user’s experience as possible in the design research. She inspired me in my process since I’m not an ostomate and won’t have the same experience that ostomates have. And it was important to me to interview people from all over and at different points in their lives.”
As part of the bodystorming process, Böhning wore a bag for weeks at a time. She swam and ran with it, went on dates, attended work meetings, and other everyday experiences to understand how it felt, what worked well, and what could be improved. She also spoke with ostomates in Wales, Scotland, Alaska, and California to hear their stories, ask thoughtful questions, and listen.
“One of the main issues is that most products are one-size-fits-all,” said Böhning. “You have a standardized wafer that needs to be cut to form every time. It’s technical, and you want to fit the opening around your stoma. But, of course, all our bodies are different, and all the stomas are different. People are grappling with the fact that ‘this is not made for my body.’”
Böhning started with polylactic acid (PLA) to create 3D-printed prototypes and receive feedback. As she decided on a more robust model, she moved to stereolithography (SLA) printing to achieve a higher level of detail.
“The reaction from testers between the PLA and SLA prints validated the concept as we moved up in fidelity,” said Böhning. “In medical, the first impression is really important. You want to convey that it’s an iterative process, but you still want something that feels respectful to the people you’re pitching an idea to and give them a nice finish and tactile experience.”
Böhning is still exploring SLA resin as a final material but needs to conduct efficacy tests, especially for stress concentrations, creep occurrences, and fatigue loading failures. She’s also considering injection molding with HDPE and weighing her options with other additive manufacturing technologies.
“There are two components,” said Böhning. “There’s the base wafer, which has to be a flexible material because it’s the direct interface between the body and the port, which is much less pliable. The wafer was printed with an elastic resin with a hardness of about 50 A. It’s quite flexible and moves well with the body. If any part is going to be 3D printed, it would probably be that elastic wafer component.”
The Gutsy Port is unique because it interacts with acidic fluids and must accommodate movement. The wafer acts as a seal on the base of the port, which has an annual snap-fit joint and cantilever button, which users interact with the most.
“I’m also considering having one part to minimize connections, which is the trickiest design element — the connection between the flexible wafer and the hard base,” said Böhning.
To help drive the technical aspects of design and development, Böhning continues to interview ostomates and receive feedback from around the globe. She also nurtures an ongoing partnership with Dr. Alessio Pagazzi, the chief of colorectal surgery at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medical Center.
“You can live a fulfilled, happy, active life with an ostomy bag, but we can think of other options and build upon ideas,” said Böhning.
For more information about Böhning’s Gutsy Port, visit https://gutsyport.com.