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Entrepreneur marketing medical ID cards for bicyclists young and old

Tuesday, September 29, 1998

By Christine H. O'Toole

Bike accidents hurt; helmets help.

That basic message is getting through to youngsters and parents through the aggressive public information campaigns of the past decade.

  Lou Gaston displays the medical alert sticker and information slip he's invented for bicycle helmets. (Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)

Now, a local entrepreneur is taking the protection provided by helmets a bit further, with the invention of a medical information card carried inside.

Lou Gaston, the 50-year old creator of Medical Information Carrier System, came up with the idea for the simple device two years ago, when he served as medical director of the Keystone Ride. The annual long-distance bicycling event sponsored by Gov. Ridge attracts hundreds of riders.

"We realized that we had all these riders and we knew very little about their emergency contact information. We [Gaston and business partner Bob Laughner] threw some ideas around and decided, if we're going to do this, why don't we give them something they can take with them?"

The device has two parts: the small reflective decal that riders affix to the left rear of their helmets, and a medical information card carried in a small plastic sleeve inside the helmet. It is manufactured by Gaston's firm, Medical Emergency Data Systems, in Sarver.

Similar to the Medic-Alert bracelet worn by many people with chronic diseases, the Mi Sticker can alert emergency personnel to existing conditions, allergies, and emergency contact names. The information card also carries a signature line where the carrier indicates consent to be treated.

The device is important for bicyclists, said Gaston, because of the distances they cover during an average workout. The product was recently endorsed by USA Cycling, the national organization for competitive cycling that oversees the U.S. Olympic team.

The sticker is equally useful for children and workers in hard-hat industries.

  The sticker is placed on the left rear part of the helmet and alerts emergency personnel to the medical information card inside the helmet. (Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)

"It would be especially valuable in a worst-case scenario, where unconscious kids come in," said Dr. Rod Groomes, director of the emergency department at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital. Such cases have happened several times in his 13 years there.

Although most bike accidents fall into the category Groomes calls "road rash" - scrapes and bruises - he estimates that 10 to 20 percent of the emergency room cases he sees are bike-related.

Dr. Tom Stein, medical director for Life Flight at Allegheny General Hospital, says bike accidents run the gamut from minor to life-threatening.

"The most serious injuries we see are head injuries. More commonly, there are abrasions, caused by falling and skidding, and hard tissue injuries like broken bones and sprains."

In Pittsburgh, 135 people with bike-related injuries were treated by EMS personnel in 1995, according to Terri Anthony, program coordinator of the bike helmet coalition of the Center for Violence and Injury Prevention at Allegheny University Hospitals.

Stein, whose children are bike-riders, said that the stickers would improve the treatment of children's injuries.

"Kids usually don't know their medical emergency information. [When they're hurt] someone whisks them away and their parents might not know about it for awhile."

"When kids are riding alone or riding with their friends," the sticker provides peace of mind, said Groomes, who is also a recreational cyclist and medical director for Medical Emergency Data Systems.

"You may ride for years and years and never need this, but it's an inexpensive way to provide protection."

Mi Sticker kits sell for $2 each wholesale. Among the first buyers were the governor's office, which bought them for participants in this year's Keystone Ride; the state Department of Transportation's bike safety program; and a West Virginia mine. USA Cycling intends to market the stickers to its 75,000 members nationwide, and overseas orders are also expected.

Gaston, a chiropractor and physician's assistant, said the new product will be reviewed in several national publications for emergency workers this fall. He will donate stickers to the City of Pittsburgh's bike-mounted police and housing police forces.

Gaston also is donating part of the proceeds from the sale of this product to the American Academy of Pediatrics and to the National SafeKids Coalition.

Once orders begin to grow, the kits will be assembled by adults with Down syndrome attending the Clelian Heights School for Exceptional Children in Westmoreland County.

Organizations interested in ordering the Mi Sticker kits can call 724-295-4900.

Christine H. O'Toole is a free-lance writer who lives in Mt. Lebanon.

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