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Consumer Reports

Frequent traveler patents seats for jets that could prevent leg clots | (KRT) MISSION VIEJO, Calif. - Arnold Jonas is not a little man.

His thighs are plump and support the round belly that rests upon them when he sits. His shoulders are wide. His head is sizable. Even his glasses are unusually large, taking up half his face - his great, big smile takes up the other half.

On frequent flights between Orange County and his native Israel, Jonas found his girth to be a constricting, uncomfortable - and, yes, big - problem.

It also gave him a big idea.

Jonas, 58, realized that if his feet were lifted just slightly off the ground, if they were able to dangle the way kids' legs dangled, his blood could keep pumping through his legs and there would be less pressure on his thighs.

He spent the better part of 20 years playing with this idea, sitting with his fists under his knees to give him leverage, piling flight pillows under his legs. He once brought a two-by-four on board to tuck behind his knees. But he couldn't keep his hands from tiring, the pillows from slipping or the plank from becoming uncomfortable during the 13-hour flights.

"It got to the point, that just when I thought about the flight, I felt pain," Jonas said.

In October 2000, Jonas learned that the discomfort he was feeling could be fatal. Newspapers and television stations throughout the world carried the story of a British woman who died of a pulmonary embolism in Heathrow shortly after a flight from Singapore.

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She had developed deep vein thrombosis, also known as "Economy Class Syndrome," a condition that causes the blood to clot in one of the deep veins near the center of the leg and blocks the flow of blood back to the heart.

Jonas realized he was on to something, and so - much to his wife's chagrin - the retired writer became an inventor.

Tinkering in his Mission Viejo garage and traveling to Europe to talk to designers, Jonas invented and patented an airline seat that allows passengers to keep the blood pumping in their legs without taking up too much room in the already cramped rows.

His invention, called NewSit, has not yet garnered much more than lukewarm interest from airline companies. But doctors who have seen it are impressed.

"NewSit allows (passengers) to wiggle (their) legs and feet in the air, which is precisely the effective way to enhance blood flow, thus eliminating DVT," wrote Dr. Hanan Lobel, a Beverly Hills, Calif., cardiologist who examined the seat for Jonas's patent application.

In its most mild form, DVT can injure the valves in the leg veins that help pump blood back up to the heart, leading to venous stasis ulcers, chronic open wounds around the ankles.

Left untreated, clots can also detach, travel through the bloodstream to the lungs and get lodged in a pulmonary artery. Large clots that completely block the pulmonary artery can be fatal, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

"It's a real problem," said Dr. Roy Fujitani, chief of vascular surgery at UCI Medical Center. "In a typical year, 2 million people (nationally) are treated for DVT, one million of these are caused by air travel."

Annually, nearly 2,000 people die from DVT, according to the NHLBI.

Fujitani has not seen Jonas's invention and could not comment on it, but he said anything that keeps the legs pumping is a good idea on long flights.

Even such tangentially implicit approval gives Jonas hope that the thing parked inside his garage will revolutionize air travel and save lives.

For his prototype, the inventor purchased two chairs from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, left one as-is (for comparison's sake) and renovated the other with a movable part that passengers can pump back and forth with their calves. He is fond of demonstrating the maneuver, reclining in the chair and smiling wide.

"It's excellent. Just like a swing," he says in a thick Israeli accent. "You stay healthier, and another advantage is you have a good time."



The calf muscles act as a "peripheral heart," squeezing with every contraction to push blood out of the legs and back to the heart, said Dr. Roy Fujitani, chief of vascular surgery at UCI Medical Center.

But if the blood clots in the deep veins, that pumping will fail. Blood will pool in the legs, and that could lead to everything from swelling and chronic open wounds, to pulmonary embolism and death.

Deep vein thrombosis can happen to anyone who is immobilized for long periods of time after surgery or serious injuries, bed rest or long trips. The hormone estrogen found in birth control pills also has been shown to increase the risk of blood clots. Cancer patients, people with diabetes or heart disease, obese people and people who have a family history of DVT or pulmonary embolism are at particularly high risk.

But air travel has been found to blame for nearly half of all cases of DVT, so Fujitani recommends a few simple steps when flying for more than five hours.

Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated will help keep your blood from coagulating and will reduce your risk of blood clots. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate the body.

Exercise where you are. Simply stretching your legs in front of you and pointing and flexing your toes for five minutes every hour or so will help mimic walking and keep the blood flowing through your legs. You can also push down on your feet and contract your thigh muscles periodically.

If you are high risk, consider asking your doctor for a prescription for graded compression hose, which helps gently force the deoxygenated blood back up the veins.

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© 2003, The Orange County Register Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services