Real-World Project is All About Pressure

A tight-knit group of five University of Cincinnati students are gathering up the threads of their weeks-long research, weaving together colorful designs to aid children and teens who have suffered severe burns.  The students will present the results of their work, in the form of sketches and drawings, at 9 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 4, in Room 6320, of UC's College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.

The fashion design seniors, all majoring in product development and working in a studio course led by Phyllis Borcherding, assistant professor of design, have spent the fall quarter researching everything from the needs of burn victims to the psychology of color and design in order to help create better pressure garments for Shriners Hospital for Children.  Pressure garments are the form-fitting, nylon-spandex coverings that burn victims wear - upon their heads, hands, feet, legs - wherever they've suffered burns.  The pressure garments reduce swelling and physical disfigurement. 

Explained Borcherding, "The studio course and the students' contributions are part of ongoing research I'm conducting to find the best fabric for pressure garment use.  Right now, the pressure garments themselves leave a permanent imprint on the skin of the patient.  That's in addition to any burn scarring a patient might have.  The garments do so because they're often worn for years, 24 hours a day."

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Because the pressure garments are such an important, long-term part of patients' lives, Borcherding is conducting research to determine which fabrics, yarn size, fabric weight and nylon-spandex blend make the best garments for burns victims so that patients suffer no additional scarring or imprinting.  And her students have been working to make the garments more appealing to the young patients at Shriners.

"A few years back, medical facilities began using neon casts to treat broken bones.  We're trying a similar idea for the pressure garments," said UC senior Candice Phillips of Louisville, Kentucky.  She and her fellow students have brainstormed an array of ideas to make the pressure garments, currently a uniform taupe color, more palatable to children.

The students have created designs that use primary colors, washable markers, and patches and ribbons that could be used, in economical ways, to help children better adjust to pressure garments.  Their ideas would not only help the patients themselves better adjust to pressure garments but would also help other children around the burn patient to better accept the garments. 

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"One idea we thought of was to develop an outer 'sleeve' to fit over the pressure garment.  Children would be able to decorate and draw on the washable sleeve.  We'd give them a packet of decals that would include dinosaurs, flowers, sports items.  Then, they'd put the sleeve on.  They could wash it and do something different with it the next day," said Phillips.  The sleeve and the decorating process would also give burn victims a way of involving other children in learning about and becoming comfortable with the subject of burns and their treatment.

As part of their research to develop ideas to assist burn patients, the UC students ran focus groups on color psychology with local schoolchildren.  Also, the university students wore pressure garments to better understand the lives of their clients.

In addition to Phillips, other product development majors participating in the pressure garment project are:

  • Jody Wetzel of Athens, Ohio
  • Jennifer Daggy of Richmond, Indiana
  • Erin Loukas of Canton, Ohio
  • Elizabeth Taylor of Atascadero, California

After this quarter ends in early December, Borcherding will continue her pressure-garment research which is funded by a $5,000 grant from the University Research Council.

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