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A Personal Motivation for a Public Problem

Given that this is intended to be the first of many conversations, I’ll start by introducing myself. My name is Ryan Shelton. I am a problem solver, a maker, a husband, a father. I love food, coffee, beer, board games, a wide variety of music, traveling, and meeting new people. I am an amateur musician, amateur golfer, and amateur programmer, but I have achieved intermediate status in fort-building and wrestling with toddlers.

In 2011, I was at Texas A&M University in the process of convincing my dissertation advisor to let me schedule my dissertation defense, when my wife and I found out we were having our first child. This was, of course, joyous, exhilarating, and terrifying, as it was already a very busy time in our life. We cheered, and cried, and made plans to bring a child into the world. Jack was born in November. He was healthy and beautiful and looks just like me, a point of which I’m reminded every single day. When Jack was around two months old, he got his first ear infection. We didn’t know what was going on, we just knew that he screamed and cried all night. ALL night. The following weeks were a brutal awakening to parenthood that may have eclipsed the 23-hour labor he was kind enough to bestow upon us (and by us, I mean my wife…). We did not know the problem was an ear infection until we finally brought him into convenient care a couple of days later. The physician took a quick look at his ears with the otoscope and said he has a double ear infection. He gave us a prescription for amoxicillin and sent us home. The following 10 months was more of the same. Every few weeks he would get an ear infection and we would usually end up with a prescription for an antibiotic. All this, despite the fact that the 2011-2012 flu season was one of the mildest in recent memory. It was incredibly frustrating that the infections seem to come infrequent enough not to prompt referral to an ENT, but frequent enough that we spent a good portion of the year piling antibiotics into a very young child’s microbiome. I often wonder how Jack’s first year of life might have been different, had we access then to the technology I spent the next few years building.

Directly after a successful dissertation defense in Fall of 2012, I took a position with Stephen Boppart at the University of Illinois’ Beckman Institute and we moved to Illinois. I was leading a project developing new handheld imaging devices for seeing through human tissues. Steve had already begun to explore the idea of using the technology to see through the eardrum, and given my recent experiences with Jack, I pushed that application hard and with the passion of a frustrated parent. Over the next couple of years, we built prototypes and tested those prototypes in human clinical studies. We found we could indeed see what was behind the eardrum, without the need to cut the eardrum open. We immediately wanted to see this technology make an impact in other parents’ and children’s lives, so we began to explore commercialization of the technology. This resulted in the founding of PhotoniCare, alongside Steve Boppart and Ryan Nolan. PhotoniCare’s mission is to empower frontline health care providers with actionable information that enables them to provide better care, improve clinical outcomes of their patients, and work alongside their patients to achieve the best possible quality of life.

Consider this an invitation to join us in our mission and journey. We will use this blog to communicate our passion, struggles, successes, celebrations, and musings to anyone interested in traveling alongside us as we try to make the vision we have a reality. Please feel free to reach out to us on LinkedInFacebook, or our website.

In the meantime, we would love to hear your personal stories about ear infections in a comment!

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