Tween Cancer Survivor Invents 'Chemo Backpack' to Help Friends

Photos by Kelly Simonds/gofundme

When 11-year-old Kylie Simonds of Naugatuck, Conn., was given a school assignment to invent something that solves an everyday problem, she didn’t go the typical route of building a baking soda volcano or potato-powered light bulb. Instead, she drew from her personal experience with cancer to provide a helpful tool for kids battling debilitating illnesses. And though it might look like a simple backpack, it’s actually much more.

Three years ago, Kylie was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare childhood cancer that affects bone or soft tissue. After 46 weeks of chemotherapy, as well as radiation and surgeries, she was issued a positive prognosis from doctors and has remained healthy ever since. Throughout her many months of treatment, Kylie became intimately familiar with the struggles of dealing with a deadly disease and even more, the specific struggles that very young people endure. “I lost my hair and always used to get sick easily,” she told Connecticut news station WTNH. 

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But one of the hardest things the now-middle-schooler dealt with was also the most mendable in her eyes: immobility. Being ill and feeling weakened from treatments contributed to Kylie’s often-static status, and IV poles also stood in the way of playtime on days when she was feeling up for activity. “I always tripped over all the wires,” she said in the interview. “It was hard to walk around, and I always had to have someone push it for me because I was kind of weak when I was in chemo.” From this problem, the IV Pediatric Backpack for KidsWithCancer was conceived — a product that can hopefully provide a little more independence to the more than 175,000 kids who are diagnosed with childhood cancers each year.

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For the original template, an IV drip bag is stabilized by a small metal pole (which is, according to Kylie, “very light” and “more convenient”) and protected from puncturing or compression by a cage, eliminating the bigger pole that Kylie found to be burdensome — and a little intimidating, too. “To have something small for them and not as big, like when I first went into the office, I was, like, ‘Whoa, those things are huge and scary,’” she said. The design also incorporates the IV’s controller — which controls flow rate — into the bag and a battery pack. But Kylie, a mini-fashionista, also thought about customization. While the mockup is pink and features Hello Kitty, there’s no reason a blue knapsack with Hot Wheels couldn’t be produced as well. 

Kylie’s invention showed so much promise that her teachers submitted the project to the Connecticut Invention Convention where more than 700 other creations were also displayed, competing for highly coveted prizes. Beating out the competition, the budding entrepreneur’s backpack received four awards, including the Patent Award, which forwards the design to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Kylie (with the help of her parents) has also set up a gofundme page to raise money for research and development, as well as to produce a fully functional device. Her goal is to raise $20,000. 

Kylie credits a few friends who are battling cancer as inspiration for the invention. Brooke (pictured below) sometimes has to take her IV home with her, and a cute backpack would mean the stylish kid wouldn’t have to carry the “ugly” IV pole around with her on mall outings. Then there’s her friend Marik, who has a prosthetic leg and uses crutches. He needs someone to push the pole around for him, but, she explains, if he had something like her backpack “he could just slip it on.”

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Birte Wistinghausen, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Hematology/Oncology at the Icahn School of Medicine and Clinical Director of the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at The Mount Sinai Hospital, believes the contraption could assist more than just Kylie’s friends. “I think it’s a wonderful idea,” she told Yahoo Health. “The stigma would fall away from seeing an IV pole [and] it would be very useful for pediatric oncology patients in providing them much more mobility and freedom.” She also noted that the pack would make it easier for patients to visit the playroom and participate in daily activities. Additionally, it could be very useful for kids that are on hydration intravenousnutrition, allowing them to move around more.

Posted to gofundme on July 22, the project has raised $2,400 so far. While they’re still a ways away from the final goal, the response has been overwhelming. “Everybody keeps saying we should go on Shark Tank,” Kylie’s mother, Kelly Simonds, tells Yahoo Health. “But to do that we have to have a real working prototype.” Also, a man offered to build a website for the project free-of-charge after he came across their story because his sister had leukemia when he was a child. 

As Kylie notes, $20,000 isn’t much to accomplish something so great and “it’s definitely more of a cause than the guy who has over $50,000 to make potato salad!”   

Touché.