Hip fractures can spell doom for the elderly. Nasty injuries in and of themselves, they'll often trigger a cascading series of maladies that can, in many cases, even lead to an early death.
Mario Garcia wants to end all that.
The St. Paul entrepreneur runs Prevent Products, which for some time has provided undergarments with foam-pad inserts that are designed to protect against hip fractures.
Now, Garcia said he's changing this product category with a new kind of foam that, he claims, will dramatically augment its protective qualities.
The reasons for this become clear when the foam is jabbed with a fingertip: The surface momentarily stiffens and then becomes soft and springy again.
Older flavors of foam used in hip-shielding undergarments do not have this stiffening quality.
This feature, during the second or two that a wearer is crashing to the floor, can absorb up to 90 percent of the energy at impact, and boost protection by up to 60 percent, Garcia said.
The new-generation foam is 40-percent thinner, as well, and also incorporates anti-microbial qualities.
An updated version of Prevent's GeriHip kit — which includes two foam pads and one undergarment — recently went on the market, according to Garcia. He thinks this could give his Lowertown company a leg up in a competitive market. About a half-dozen other companies offer similar products nationwide.
The GeriHip kit costs $59, and is not covered by insurance or Medicare.
Prevent does not own the new foam technology, called "rapid absorption polymer;" it licenses it from its New York City-based owners, Viemeister Industries and Yeadon Space Agency.
One of the proprietors, industrial designer Tucker Viemeister, said he has a particular interest in products for the elderly since he, at 67, belongs to that demographic.
Viemeister said he cold-called Preventive Products to offer up the foam for geriatric care. It has other uses, such a extreme-sports protection.
The foam is composed of urethane molecules that "freeze" for a moment or two when "stressed or impacted quickly," forming a protective shell, according to scientific descriptions.
Viemeister's company also is known for helping to design popular OXO Good Grips kitchen utensils with easy-to-hold rubber handles.
Yeadon Space Agency, run by Peter Yeadon, "exploits emergent materials with novel properties, with the aim of making original, inventive contributions," according to a statement.
Viemeister won't discuss the foam's origins. He said the inventor wants to stay behind the scenes. But Viemeister is happy to rave about the foam's great potential.
"This is really important for old people," Viemeister stressed. "For those who fall over and break their hips, this can be the first step in their decline. It's the first step in their death, really."
Garcia said the mortality rate for seniors who suffer hip fractures is "staggering," because folks bedridden by fractures often are susceptible to blood clots and other factors that "create a cascade of issues," often ending in a premature death.
Some studies show a one-year mortality rate of 60 to 70 percent following a hip fracture, Garcia said.
Hip protectors aren't Prevent Products' only offering. The firm has a range of other geriatric products, including GeriHeel supports to keep heels free of sores in bed, and a wide variety of arm and leg coverings to protect delicate skin from bruises and abrasions.
Garcia's family has been in this line of work for a while. His dad, also called Mario Garcia and a native of Manila, founded Prevent with his wife in 1986.
The elder Garcia was quoted in a 2001 Pioneer Press story that the company exists "mainly to prevent recurrent problems of the elderly and to make them more functional and independent."
Such problems, he said at the time, include blood clots and poor circulation in the lower extremities.
When the elder Garcia got kidney cancer in 2012, attempts were made to sell off the company. When that failed, the young Mario Garcia and his sister, Kaya, took over. Kaya is chief financial officer.
"That was rather abrupt," said Garcia, who worked as a financial analyst prior to taking command of Prevent. "I didn't have formal training."
The duo moved the company from Mendota Heights to its present location, which doubles as offices and shipping facility.
But he said he shares an obsession with innovation with his dad, who thought of himself more as an inventor than a businessman.
He said he's also inspired by friends and family members who are in assisted-living facilities and in urgent need of products to make their lives more comfortable and pleasant.
"It's been an exciting time, helping people prevent problems from occurring," Garcia said. "By selling these types of products, we're impacting people's lives in a significant way."