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Trendsetters: Pain Management Pioneer

Throughout her career, Dr. Amy Baxter focused on pediatric pain management and led the crusade to teach other physicians about the importance of reducing needle pain. However, when the former emergency room pediatrician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Scottish Rite Hospital witnessed her four-year-old child traumatized by an abrupt vaccination jab, she knew she had to do something more.

In 2009, with the help of a $1.1-million research grant from the National Institutes of Health, she launched a product that uses a combination of cold and vibration to block needle-stick pain.

“I knew that when you bumped your elbow and rubbed it, the rubbing would block the pain. And when you burned your finger and stuck it under cold water, it would block the pain,” she says. So she began trying to invent a device that would work in a similar way.

“When I was at Scottish Rite, I’d make prototypes in my basement with borrowed dead cellphones,” she says. “I started my company [MMJ Labs] and applied for a grant to study the mechanism of cold and vibration.” Realizing her cobbled together cellphone parts wouldn’t work commercially, she turned to Formation Design Group, an Atlanta product development company, to create Buzzy, a high-frequency, vibrating ice pack that helps block pain signals to the brain.

Not only did she have to initially sell medical practitioners on Buzzy’s effectiveness, she also had to raise awareness of the need for it. Because of the increased number of childhood injections, she says there’s been a 252 percent increase in needle phobia over the past two decades. Nine years of research, more than 20 independent clinical trials and use in more than 31 million needle procedures prove Buzzy works.

In 2016, she quit practicing medicine in favor of being a full-time entrepreneur. With Buzzy’s success under her belt – and booming consumer sales – she turned her attention to other pain issues, including those that have led to the opioid crisis.

“Sixty percent of the time, [opioid addiction] starts with medical or surgical pain,” she says. After a colleague used Buzzy instead of drugs to alleviate his pain from a knee replacement, Baxter says she realized “that the public health benefit I could have was a lot bigger than just making people aware of how widespread needle fear was.” She went on to invent the consumer product VibraCool, which uses the same ice and vibration principles as Buzzy, but is adaptable to knees, ankles and wrists.

Not content to stop there, she is beginning a crowd-funding push this month for Backster, which will be a similar therapeutic device for lower back pain. She plans to begin shipping the new product to consumers early next year.

“I’m exhilarated to know on a daily basis that I’m making a difference to more lives than I could touch one at a time,” she says. “It’s completely fulfilling to bring all the parts of my experience together for a greater purpose.”

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