During his day shift at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Anthony Scarpone-Lambert steps into a patient’s room. The lights are off, but he knows he has to change the IV without disturbing the patient.

He has two choices: turn on the overhead lights or attempt to use some sort of hand-held light to navigate in the darkness.

It’s this dilemma that he sought to fix by inventing what he and his co-founder call the uNight Light, a wearable light-emitting diode, or LED, that allows nurses to illuminate their work space without interrupting a patient’s sleep.

Mr. Scarpone-Lambert and his co-founder, Jennifferre Mancillas, are calling the light a breakthrough for frontline health care workers.

“We really pride ourselves on being very specifically designed for the clinical setting,” said Mr. Scarpone-Lambert, 21, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania who met Ms. Mancillas, 36, in 2019 at a hackathon sponsored by Johnson & Johnson that encouraged nurses to collaborate on solutions to health care problems.

They were able to finance the product, which went through 30 prototypes and iterations, with grants and personal money as well as funding from start-up accelerators and awards, Ms. Mancillas said. Through their start-up, Lumify Care, the pair raised about $50,000.

On its face, uNight Light, which retails for $22, may not seem different from other portable lights, such as those used by cyclists and runners. However, it has features that distinguish it from others on the market, including different light modes — blue, red and white. The blue light can help promote alertness, Mr. Scarpone-Lambert said.

“Your red light can be used to really kind of amplify your main vision,” he said. “And it’s also less disruptive than bright white light. The white light can be used for dental assessments and kind of like if you need to look at something a little bit more closely, like blood or fluid.”

Some studies have shown that the color red can trigger a person’s fight-or-flight reaction and psychological responses, such as fear or anxiety, leading the body to feel more alert, according to Mariana G. Figueiro, former director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. More research is needed, however, she said.

Red light, which has a long wavelength, can help promote alertness, while blue light, which has a shorter wavelength, tends to do the same while also suppressing melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep, she said.

Credit…David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer

A 2019 Thomas Jefferson University study said that 44 percent of nurses provided care in almost complete darkness most of the time and that hospital lights can negatively affect a patient’s circadian rhythm.

Ms. Mancillas, who works as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera, Calif., said she recently checked an infant’s breathing tubes using the uNight Light, without having to search for a penlight.

“It’s the tool that you didn’t know that you needed until it’s right on your scrub top, and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, where has this been this whole time?’” Ms. Mancillas said. “It makes life so much easier.”

Isis Reyes, a nurse practitioner in a cardiac surgery intensive care unit at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said patients complain about being disturbed at night as nurses give medications, check their vitals or monitor machines.

“I had a co-worker who would wear those night lights that runners use on his forehead,” Ms. Reyes said. “He would actually wear that at night and it was actually kind of funny because there were some nurses who were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy is too much,’ but it worked for him.”

For Rebecca Love, president of the Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Entrepreneurs and Leaders, uNight Light illustrates the need for nurses to be seen as leaders in health care innovation — a role that she said was often reserved for doctors because of systemic power structures.

More than 400 nurses have tested the uNight Light, and more than 90 percent said it was helpful, the inventors said. They have received 1,500 orders and will start shipments next month.

The pandemic, which has overwhelmed hospitals, underscores the need for the device, Mr. Scarpone-Lambert said, and further motivated him and Ms. Mancillas to bring it to market.

“I would say it’s been through Covid that this kind of innovation came to life,” he said. “It highlights the really important message that frontline health care workers and patients really deserve more support now more than ever.”

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