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Alum's Invention in the Running for National Contest

Penn State DuBois alum Nicole Kovalyak and the Nurture Rest
4/15/2010 —

DuBois – During her days at Penn State DuBois from 1992 through 1994, Nicole Kovalyak had her sights set on a career in nursing.  She never imagined that she would also become an inventor.  However, with patents filed on inventions intended to make premature babies more comfortable, and the chance to win a quarter of a million dollars in a contest sponsored by Pepsi, an inventor is exactly what Kovalyak has become.  She's now in the running in Pepsi's Refresh Everything competition that awards grants for great ideas or inventions in a number of areas, including healthcare.  The public chooses the winners through online voting, and two top prize $250,000 grants are awarded each month, to be used to start a business or follow through on the applicant's idea.


Kovalyak's Nurture Rest pillow is the result of her experience as a neonatal intensive care nurse.  After attending Penn State DuBois, she went on to earn a nursing degree from Duquesne University, and has spent the last nine years working with premature babies as a Registered Nurse at DuBois Regional Medical Center (DRMC).  


"Technology in medicine has come so far, but not much has been done to make preemies comfortable," Kovalyak said.  "When they're comfortable they burn less calories, feedings are better, and they sleep more.  So, they grow, get stronger, and go home faster."


Through research and her own experience, Kovalyak determined that babies are most comfortable and get the most rest when they're held by their mother.  For preemies though, the medical equipment they must be connected to does not allow their mother to hold them.  So, she set out to design and construct the Nurture Rest, which simulates the mother's chest. 


"Babies naturally want to lie on their bellies, and they can't get comfortable on a flat bed," Kovalyak explained. On the Nurture Rest, they are willing to reposition, then they naturally start to suck as if they're feeding, and they go right to sleep." 


She continued, "This gets them as comfortable as possible, so they eat and rest better, and ultimately it reduces their time in the hospital." 


Kovalyak said they've used the Nurture Rest in the neonatal unit at DRMC for more than two years now, but the other nurses only recently found out that the pillows were her invention. "I was afraid I wouldn't get real feedback if my coworkers knew the pillows were my idea, and I really wanted to know what the nurses thought of them," she said.   


The real feedback she got was positive, and full of praise.  Other nurses, and even parents of the premature babies cared for at DRMC have fully embraced Kovalyak's invention.  She said any criticism she did hear was used to make improvements or changes to the Nurture Rest.


Kovalyak hopes to start a business that will produce her pillows for hospitals all over the country, or around the world.  The Pepsi Refresh Everything competition would give that effort an enormous boost.


"I just hope I can get as many votes as possible to get this off the ground.  I really think my idea can help a lot of families by helping their babies get healthier faster," Kovalyak said.


To vote for the Nurture Rest, visit http://www.refresheverything.com/  Votes must be cast before the end of April. 

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