Entrepreneurs and Innovators
Lea Blackwell ’96
Breast surgical oncologist Lea Blackwell has been treating both women and men with breast cancer since 2008. Wanting to find a way to make their recovery more comfortable, she developed the Blackwell Bra.
What inspired you to invent the Blackwell Bra?
When I did my surgical training, we wrapped patients in an Ace Elastic Bandage. In my fellowship training, we had a surgical compression bra that we instructed the patients to wear for six weeks. When I started my surgical practice in Fort Myers, we used a surgical bra with a front Velcro closure. Every patient complained — it was uncomfortable but more uncomfortable without it. I started wondering if I could make my own bra.
Have you received a patent for your invention?
In May of 2011, patent attorneys advised me I had a patentable idea. In November of 2011, I applied for a patent for my “post-operative compression bra” and received my first patent in July, 2014. I now have three additional patents. I have two more items, a bra for women after heart and lung surgery that I’m calling the Thoracic Compression Bra and the Drain Apron, to help manage drain bulbs after surgery. I have the trademark on “Blackwell Bra” and one pending for “Dr. Blackwell.”
What makes the Blackwell Bra unique?
I was looking for a certain feel on the skin and ordered wick- away nylon and spandex compression fabric from Italy. The bra uses clasps instead of Velcro, which provide adjustability in the front and are easier for the patient to snap closed. It has mesh pockets to accommodate the drains. If patients don’t have drains, they can use the mesh pockets for ice packs. Because the patient is wearing the bra 24 hours a day, it can be hot, which is uncomfortable for the patient, so I added a mesh panel in the back of the bra to ventilate the bra. Additionally, all of the other post-surgical bras were designed with a wide band of fabric on the side, which aggravates the incision sites under the arms. The Blackwell Bra’s lower side fabric minimizes interference with the incisions. My accessory product, the Drain Apron, is helpful for patients who have drains, which are cumbersome. The Drain Apron is helpful to accommodate the drains when patients are taking showers. All of the bras are made in bright colors — I feel it’s positive and lifts their spirits. Women tell me that the bra is comfortable, and that they feel protected.
What challenges were there in making the bra?
It turns out that the bra is one of the more complex items to make in textiles. It’s not easy nding a manufacturer, and I prefer to make them in the U.S. Since 2013, I’ve worked with a seamstress who makes bras for my patients. I’ve given away more than a thousand bras since 2014. Working with the seamstress has helped me to modify the bra to improve the fit and feel. I have a bra designer working with me to facilitate manufacturing and hope to have them ready for sale by the end of 2018.
For more information, go to www.blackwellbra.com