This is our story.
A fter speaking to Ken, the mastermind behind this extraordinarily successful urinary incontinence device, one message is clear: it has changed his life dramatically and he’s never looked back.
Ken Kunz is a “Mr. Fix It” type, naturally clever at repairing things. This talent allowed him to go far in his career as an aircraft maintenance engineer (AME) in the industry—a job he loved dearly and never quite gave up after his early retirement at age 54. Who would have thought that his abilities would come into play in such a different light?
Born in 1931, in the town of North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Ken developed an interest in airplanes at the tender age of seven. He saw his first plane sitting on a lake, on skis, in northern Manitoba; after that he was hooked and read everything he could get his hands on. In 1951, he was fortunate to hear that Trans Canada Airlines (now Air Canada) in Winnipeg had a contract with the Royal Canadian Air Force and was hiring people to look after military airplanes. Although he had no experience in fixing aircraft, he jumped at the opportunity. A mechanically inclined man, Ken found his job as a maintenance person easy, troubleshooting problems on the aircraft and finding solutions. He worked his way up the ladder and retired at age 54 in March 1986. He then continued in private aviation, rebuilding old airplanes for fun and flying them.
Ken felt blessed he was doing a job he loved, but had no idea how much his knowledge and interest in hydraulics and fluidics would change his life for the better, when required.
In 2006, Ken was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Although he was 76, the doctors elected to perform surgery to remove the gland because he was otherwise in excellent physical shape. The surgery removed the cancer… but left him with urinary incontinence (UI). Although it seems a small price to pay for a chance at many more years of life, incontinence really impacted Ken’s life. He started avoiding social situations, worrying that people would find the odour of his adult diaper offensive. Months later, when his spouse told him “you smell like an old man,” Ken became determined to find a more acceptable, positive, and comfortable solution.
Ken began with the thought, “If you don’t want the water to drain, you put a plug in it.” His urinary sphincter no longer worked post-surgery, thus making him unable to hold his urine in all circumstances. He then went to work on a plug concept, tinkering with glass beads and stainless steel wire. The wire, when twisted double, was stiff enough that he could insert the smooth round bead into the urethra and up the channel to a place where the soft epithelium lining of the urethra would fold around the bead and seal in place. After many days and numerous trials, each time using a progressively larger bead, finally the device was the correct size to seal inside the urethra and remain in the proper location.
The device has evolved since Ken’s initial design: the twisted wire inserter/remover has been superseded by a very comfortable flexible lanyard (for removal) fitting into a grooved handle (for insertion). The handle is then removed and kept available for the next cycle. The glass bead has been replaced by a dedicated injection moulded plastic unit.
In Ken’s own words, he has “been dry as popcorn” for five years straight using the device he invented. No scalding urine irritation. No wet undergarments. No embarrassing odours. He has never had an infection, discomfort, or any complications. He wears this device, needs nothing else, and isn’t limited in what he can physically do. In fact, he often has to do a physical check before going out, to make sure he’s wearing it —because he can’t feel it. Apart from taking a minute or two longer in the washroom (he removes it, voids his bladder, washes it, and reinserts it using a personal lubricant), his situation now is just like any other continent person—a far cry from the days of adult diapers.
Three years ago he applied for a patent and now the Comfort Plug prototype has been developed according to ISO 13485 standards and is ready for a pilot trial. Ken knows he has designed a revolutionary medical device that will help the millions suffering from incontinence. And he feels a sense of obligation to get the device into the market. At 81 years old, it’s not about money. It’s about responsibility: after such personal success, he wants to see other people’s lives changed for the better.
Ken’s story is inspiring. It’s the perfect example of how necessity really is the mother of invention. His determination, not simply his understanding of hydraulics and fluidics, changed his quality of life and will hopefully soon change the lives of millions more. As he said, “If I can fix airplanes that carry hundreds of passengers, I can surely come up with a real comfortable, economic, reusable, non-invasive solution for personal urinary leakage.” And that he did.