Kenner Inventor’s “Tucker Sling” Brings Reflux Relief To Thousands Of Infants

By TROY BROUSSARD

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, but, for one Kenner mom in the early 1990s, the motivation that led to the creation of a device that would ultimately bring comfort to thousands of infants was not so much necessity, as it was love.

From the beginning, Terry Jarrett struggled with the challenges that her newborn son, Keith, constantly faced.

“I could not put him down,” Jarrett recalls. “Formula would come out of his nose and mouth as he choked. He was inconsolable. The only time he seemed to find relief was when I held him, which was ten to twelve hours every day.”

Jarrett sought various medical opinions, but was repeatedly told that her son probably had colic. Going with her instinct, however, Jarrett persisted in looking for a cause to her baby’s extreme pain and discomfort. A visit to Dr. Douglas LaGarde, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Ochsner Foundation Hospital who presently practices at Tulane Medical Center, finally led to a definitive diagnosis- Keith had a severe case of acid reflux. To link Jarrett into a support system of parents in similar situations, Dr. LaGarde introduced Jarrett to Ann Tucker, whose own child suffered with reflux and apnea as well. The two became quick friends while together they carried out a protocol for their kids consisting of thickened feedings, antacids, and a third, more challenging requirement, elevation.

For children who have reflux, the non-invasive treatment of elevation uses gravity to help prevent reflux from reoccurring. As the pair quickly discovered, though, the physical aspect of elevating a sleeping child in a baby bed was easier said than done. Home remedies, such as rolling towels for positioning tools, were hardly effective. It was then that Tucker shared something with Jarrett she thought could help make the elevation easier to accomplish. “Ann had an idea for a device to hold her baby upright, “Jarrett said. “Together we worked on a design, which I ultimately sewed at my kitchen table.” After several attempts and modifications, the “Tucker Sling,” as it would come to be known, was complete. And it worked.

In essence, the sling keeps babies both upright and secure and prevents them from sliding to the foot of an elevated mattress. It fits around the elevated upper part of a mattress much like a contour sheet would, while a cloth T-shape is fastened between the baby’s legs with Velcro straps. Because there are no pins or ties, if necessary, the child’s caregiver can get the baby out of the sling quickly.

“The sling was designed specifically to serve as an infant positioning system for babies who suffer from acid reflux or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), sinus or ear infections, colds, or pulmonary conditions, but it can be used for any baby at home or in a hospital needing to be elevated face up or on their side,” Jarrett said.

While the first beneficiaries of Jarrett and Tucker’s ingenuity were their own children, the team ultimately decided to share their success with others.

“We first started to market the Tucker Sling in the early 1990s, and in fact, Ochsner Hospital was our first customer. After that we began to make the rounds at trade shows, including the American Academy of Pediatrics Annual Convention. Most people found out about the sling through word of mouth, “Jarrrett said. Years later, word about the positive effects of the Tucker Sling has continued to spread. Now an FDA registered device, and often covered by insurance, the sling is in use by hundreds of families and hospitals, and Jarrett’s company has fielded orders from around the world.

Jarrett will tell you that one thing she absolutely treasures are the numerous testimonial letters and "thank you" cards that she has received over time, each one representing the sling’s success in making a difference in the life of a child. Add to that list the experience of this writer’s family as well. Shortly after my infant son was diagnosed with acid reflux, we began to use the Tucker Sling as a part of his prevention therapy. From the moment that we placed Aaron on to the sling, he relaxed and smiled in a way that he hadn’t since the onset of his symptoms. He began to sleep all night. Needless to say, much like the descriptions found in the correspondence from other parents, I, too, would describe the device as a "life saver." It also bears mentioning, however, that Terry Jarrett herself contributes greatly to the positive result that the sling offers. Her knowledge, understanding, and life experience showed though when introducing us to her product, and this helped bring reassurance at a time when my wife and I needed it. And though we consider Terry to be a personal friend, it is apparent that she provides this same support to other Tucker Sling users at every opportunity. When asked what’s the most fulfilling part of her work today, she responds, “It’s the joy I get from knowing other mothers will not have to experience the fear and exhaustion that I went through.”

As part of her mission of helping parents to recognize and have reflux treated in their own babies, Jarrett’s company website encourages parents to ask questions, as she did, if they suspect more than just colic is at play.

“Does your newborn baby seem to cry too much? Or does your newborn infant seem to spit up or vomit too often? Is your baby not sleeping? Does your infant baby have feeding problems? Does your newborn infant seem to have a cold or flu-like symptoms? Does your newborn baby have infant colic or a combination of these symptoms? These symptoms are often confused with a condition commonly referred to in infants as infant Acid Reflux or GERD. Be sure to consult with your pediatrician, pediatric gastroenterologist, and / or your pediatric ENT about these symptoms in your newborn baby.”

The Tucker Sling is available in three sizes, from preemie size, baby weight less than two pounds, on up to baby weight of twenty-seven pounds. Special orders are available as well. For more information on the Tucker Sling visit www.tuckersling.com.

This article first appeared in the Kenner Star Newspaper in November of 2004. It is reprinted with permission

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