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Making his mark

Article-Making his mark

Key iconKey Points

  • Plastic surgeon Donn B. Harnick, M.D., invented a stamping kit and geometrical scalpel to optimize scar revision surgery
  • Use and benefits are discussed

Plastic surgeon Donn B. Harnick, M.D., was a teenager taking a shower when he thought of his first invention. He got out of the shower and told his father that he wanted to invent the Shave and Shower Mirror, to make shaving a safer, more pleasurable shower experience.

"My father looked at me like I was crazy; then, he tried the prototype and said, "What a great idea!" Dr. Harnick says.

Though he never patented the Shave and Shower Mirror and does not get royalties from its sale, Dr. Harnick says the product has been a strong seller in the U.S. for decades.

BETTER THAN FREEHAND To date, Dr. Harnick has several inventions but only one patent, which is for the Broken Geometrical Scalpel.

He had the idea as a medical student at the University Autónoma de Guadalajara, Mexico. Dr. Harnick says that somebody else had the brainy concept that surgeons should breakup the visual appearance of a linear scar by surgically cutting in a running W, or triangular pattern.

"You cut in a geometrical pattern and repeat it in different orders, so your eye would be fooled and would not follow the line of the scar," he says.

Hand drawing the incisional pattern and cutting freehand with a scalpel was a bit tedious, though; taking an hour, or so, per inch, he says. Plastic surgeons using the running W were certainly running up expensive operating room time, Dr. Harnick thought.

"I had the idea for a cookie-cutter scalpel [kit] and made it myself; then, I had it patented. That was more than 20 years ago," he says.

He performed his first case with the geometric-edged scalpel on a thick-skinned patient who sustained mouth-to-ear lacerations from going through a windshield in a car crash.

"If something like this worked on someone with his skin, obviously it would work on someone with better scarring," Dr. Harnick says.

The kit includes a stamp, which eliminates the need for freehand drawing. Dr. Harnick stamped above and below the scar and, after he cut the edges with a scalpel, simply peeled out the base.

"His scar was four or five inches long, and it took 10 to 15 minutes to take out each side," Dr. Harnick says. "Sewing up the incision is a little slower, though, because you are fitting the jagged edges."

The surgeon uses Steri-Strips to keep tension off the wound and keeps the Steri-Strips on for a couple of weeks after he removes the stitches.

Today he uses the same device that he invented in medial school, and says he wouldn't change a thing.

PRE-GOOGLE LEGWORK Dr. Harnick, who thinks he is the only person today using the Broken Geometrical Scalpel, says the biggest challenge to patenting the device was in doing the research to make sure someone else had not already claimed the invention.

"As a medical student, I did not yet know the plastic surgery literature, and this was before the computer age; so, I would go to libraries and look up patents in research books. What takes a few hours today, took days and weeks back then," he says.

While he was never as motivated to market the device as he was to create it, Dr. Harnick says that having the ambition to invent something helped in his quest to pursue plastic surgery.

"The competition was fierce when I applied for my plastic surgery residency," he says. "It helped me get in when they saw that I was thinking out of the box."

WINNING BY A NOSE Dr. Harnick has also invented nasal instruments for rhinoplasty.

His invention, the nasal frontal osteotome, helps him to break the nose with better accuracy.

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