All Things Soldier: The Sponge Syringe That Saves Lives

2014-02-07_14-35-35Recently Popular Science published an article that talked about a technological breakthrough that could save lives on the battle field. Gunshot wounds remain one of the most difficult to treat, and time is always of the essence. If a wound has to be packed, and the bleeding has not been stopped, the gauze has to be removed and the wound re-packed. The process is so painful that it is SOP to make sure the guy’s weapon is nowhere near him.


Former US Army Special Operations Medic Jon Steinbaugh served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and knows firsthand how important it is to get the bleeding stopped immediately, as well as the limited options to do it. When he retired from the Army in 2012, he went to work for a firm in Oregon called RevMedx with the purpose of developing something that could be carried in a backpack and used in the field.

The original idea was to come up with something that would function like “Fix-a-flat,” which could be sprayed in to the wound and fill it up, stanching the bleeding. That proved undoable, as the force of blood flow would wash out the spray.

Steinbaugh’s team then came up with the idea of using small bits of sponge to inject down into wounds. The sponges worked, but the next challenge was to make sure they were made of material that wouldn’t cause harm. “The team settled on a sponge made from wood pulp and coated with chitosan, a blood-clotting, antimicrobial substance that comes from shrimp shells. To ensure that no sponges would be left inside the body accidentally, they added X-shaped markers that make each sponge visible on an x-ray image,” said the Popular Science article.


The sponges stopped the bleeding in 15 seconds, but there needed to be a way to quickly get them into a wound. The next step was to develop a large plastic syringe to “inject” the sponges into the wound. The syringe is 30 millimeters in diameter, made of polycarbonate, and the handle is designed to be stored inside in order to save space.
Now Steinbaugh and his crew are working to find a way to make the sponges out of material that would be biodegradable and would not have to be removed from the wound, like some suture materials used for stitches that dissolve after a few days. There is also an application being developed for larger wounds such as those caused by IEDs. An interesting non-military application would be to stop life threatening post partum bleeding. Steinbaugh is pleased with the progress his team is making. “I spent the whole war on terror in the Middle East, so I know what a medic needs when someone has been shot,” Steinbaugh says. “I’ve treated lots of guys who would have benefitted from this product. That’s what drives me.”

If I don’t miss my guess, while in Special Forces Steinbaugh was part of what was known as 18 Delta, an elite group of medics who trained at Ft. Bragg, who could probably figure out a way to successfully perform surgery with bailing twine. I am grateful for his service, and grateful that he is still finding a way to help his brothers in arms.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner