By George Brett Toronto Star
around the world
When nurse Mita Samani of University Hospital, Nottingham, England, saw it demonstrated last year, she just had to have one for her hospital.
So she headed a fund-raising blitz -- including getting sponsors for her first parachute jump -- and raised about $2,000 (U.S.) to buy a radical, Canadian-made device called the CPM (for continuous passive motion) unit.
Invented by Toronto's Dr. Robert Salter, head of orthopedic surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children, the CPM units -- or Mobilimbs -- are made by Toronto Medical Corp. of Scarborough and exported around the world.
"Frightened? I was terrified," said Samani, 27, of her parachute debut. But she plans to take to the silk again because her hospital needs "at least three more" CPM units.
Samani was interviewed on a promotional trip to Toronto paid for by Toronto Medical's British distibutor, Straumann G.B. Ltd.
She said that, in a reversal of the traditional practice of immobilizing broken limbs and injured joints while they heal, the CPM unit continuously bends and straightens the injured limb.
The result: faster healing, reduced pain and swelling and frequently the regeneration of cartilage.
John Saringer, founder and president of Toronto Medical, says the CPM units, which come in versions designed for legs, elbows and hands, are so effective that patients who have had complete knee transplants are going home in seven or eight days, rather than 12.
When Salter finished 10 years of research on the concept, he asked Saringer, an engineer who specializes in mechanisms and mechanical devices, to build the CPM units.
Other companies, however, "didn't wait" for completion of the research, Saringer says ruefully. About 15 manufacturers around the world produce devices based on Salter's ideas.
English nurse Mita Samani was so impressed with this machine from John Saringer's firm that she debuted as a parachutist to help raise money for one. It keeps injured limbs in motion to speed recovery.
"But we have more of a corner on the technology than anyone else," Saringer says. "Others are basically copying the concepts." Toronto Medical is the second largest firm producing the devices, "and we expect to become the largest this year," he says.
"We make it from the ground up," with parts -- power transmission, chain,
motors -- imported from the U.S., Japan or Europe.
Toronto Medical has "practically the world market" for upper-limb and hand CPMs. The company's lower-limb version "was initially poorly designed," Saringer admits, but a redesigned model recently won "best in the U.S." honours from a magazine that rates medical devices.
Toronto Medical has 15 employees at its Golden Gate Court plant and sales running at about $1.2 million a year, he says. Ninety percent of CPM units are exported to about 25 countries.
The units -- priced in U.S. dollars because 50 percent of sales are to the United States -- sell for about $2,000 (U.S.) in the elbow and leg versions, with the small unit for keeping fingers moving priced at about $500 (U.S.).
Initial funding was from the Imasco-CDC Research Foundation, a fund created to promote development of medical industry products in Canada. The foundation provided about $230,000 of the half-million dollar development costs.
Wednesday, April 2, 1986
The Ontario government's IDEA Corp. owns about a third of the company, with Saringer having about 80 percent of the rest, or a total of about 51 percent.
"We're extremely profitable," Saringer says. "About 20 percent of our sales is profit." What's more, because of losses over several years that are being carried forward, "it will be at least another year before we pay (income) tax."
He says Salter has never earned a cent for his starring role in the development of CPM units.
"For academic credibility, he wouldn't think of that."
At the doctor's behest, Toronto Medical donates 2 percent of sales, less patent and other costs, to the Research Institute of the Hospital for Sick Children.