New bra helps breast cancer survivors stay warm

A photo of thermal bras, which were created by Spectrum Health Innovations and a group of Central Michigan University students. (Oct. 18, 2017)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Spectrum Health alerted 24 Hour News 8 about a new bra which will keep breast cancer survivors warm post reconstructive surgery. It’s called a thermal bra.

A breast cancer survivor, Jodie Faber, brought the idea to Spectrum Health Innovations Team. The innovations team passed the idea along to a group of Central Michigan University students who brought the bra to life.

Faber was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy in 2005.

“Everything was going along swimmingly until one summer a couple years after I was swimming in the East Bay at Traverse City on a nice summer day,” said Faber. “I got out of the water and my breasts were bright red.”

Faber mentioned her breasts were also cold along with her entire core. It was to the point where she felt she couldn’t warm up.

“I went back to my plastic surgeon and I said, ‘what’s up with these implants, you know, why are they so cold all the time,’” said Faber.

According to her surgeon, it’s a common problem for women post reconstructive surgery. At times, the silicone in implants can feel more like ice packs.

“When they take out all the tissue, they take out all the blood supply. They take out all the insulation. They take out everything, including the nerve endings when you have no feeling,” said Faber.

Her surgeon suggested using hand warmers as a quick fix. She later found out the hard way it wouldn’t work. Faber burned herself with the hand warmers because she didn’t know how warm they were.

She was later encouraged by her daughter to come up with her own solution.

“She said you know, wouldn’t it be great if someone would invent a bra or something that would help keep the cold out and the warm in,” said Faber.

It wasn’t until years later, she took the idea to Spectrum Health Innovations and a group of four CMU students.

24 Hour News 8 went to the lab on CMU’s campus in Mount Pleasant, where the first thermal Bra was made, to see how it was done.

“We found combining materials were the best way to achieve all the goals,” said Sue Wroblewski, a graduate student.

The goal is to find fabrics that trap body heat instead of letting it escape. Once the right combination was found, they put the bra to the test on a thermal mannequin. After passing the mannequin test with flying colors, a prototype was made for Faber to try.

No burns this time, no wires — just a typical everyday bra.

“My first thought when I put that bra on was I’m normal, I mean, that’s how I felt. It was just nice to feel normal,” said Faber.

The first bra for Faber was made during fall 2016. Since then, several thermal bras have been made, including bras with different designs and sizes.

The next step for the bra is a trial phase. Wroblewski said they are in need of women, ages 40 to 70, who are breast cancer survivors that underwent a double mastectomy with prosthetic reconstruction at least one year ago.

Women who meet the criteria and are interested can contact Wroblewski by email at sue.wroblewski@cmich.edu.

The thermal bra is expected to be for sale in 2018 and priced around $80.