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Cazadero inventor hopes study could validate temple massager

Army veteran Joe Meisch of Cazadero demonstrates his invention, the temple massager, in Santa Rosa, California, on Wednesday, October 4, 2017. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

ROBERT DIGITALE,

Joe Meisch has persisted through 20 years of trying to advance his invention, a “temple massager” designed to relieve headaches and other ailments related to facial tension.

He’s about to learn whether his tenacity might pay off.

Meisch, an Army Reserve and National Guard veteran and a Cazadero resident, came up with his idea in September 1997 and for the past 10 years has been donating the Meisch Temple Massager to veterans and the medical institutions that serve them. This summer a researcher tied to the U.S. military health system agreed to conduct a clinical assessment of the device, a pilot that might lead to a full clinical trial to measure how much the massager helps relieve persistent headaches.

Meisch, 51, said promoting the massager has been the biggest challenge of his life. For those who’ve watched him, it has been an ongoing display of grit and gumption.

“Joe is probably one of the most persistent people I’ve ever met,” said Larry Childs, owner of Designit Prototype, the Rohnert Park company that helped Meisch design the massager. “He just believes in his product, and he goes at it like a bulldog.”

The massager has a handle like a slingshot and two arms and tips that resemble the ear piece sections of a stethoscope. The user adjusts the device to fit the face and moves the two tips in slow circular motions between the temple and jaw line.

Meisch got the idea for his invention while fighting a headache and finding that the ear pieces of his sunglasses brought relief when he rubbed them against his temples. He was surprised to learn he couldn’t just go out and buy a temple massager because nobody made one.

It took four years to get the idea patented. For the last decade, Meisch has shown the massager to researchers, drug rehab officials, autism therapists, a professional football team trainer and virtually anyone connected with treating veterans. He sells the device, starting at $79.95, at www.templemassager.com.

Medical literature promotes relaxing facial muscles to help relieve headaches, teeth grinding and jaw clenching, Meisch said.

Nonetheless, persuading others that his device could make a difference hasn’t come easy. He said he has persisted because of the testimonials of vets who swear by the massager and because he wanted to honor two military comrades, one killed in Iraq and another drowned while on a training exercise.

This summer brought a breakthrough. Maheen Adamson, senior scientific research director for Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center in Palo Alto, agreed to oversee a clinical assessment of the device and its effects for patients with headaches. The pilot study, involving 10 to 20 patients, will take place over three to six months and be conducted by staff at the polytrauma department located at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

Adamson, who is also a clinical associate professor in the department of neurosurgery and psychiatry & behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, said the assessment will employ the same standardized measures used in similar research studies. Depending on the results, she next might seek a grant in order to conduct a larger clinical trial, one that would gather more data on the device’s effectiveness.

Many patients can benefit from noninvasive ways of coping with headaches and other related ailments, Adamson said.

Meisch may be a layman, Adamson said, but he “understands the problem” of headaches and “he can convince a scientist to get some research done.”

She added that it took him a year and a half to convince her to conduct the pilot.

Meisch said the assessment isn’t “the brass ring” of a successful clinical trial but it may lead to one. He suggested he can’t afford to build up too much hope, but said he felt “honored and blessed” that Adamson decided his product merited the initial study.

“It makes me feel like the last 10 years was worth it,” Meisch said.

Tom Hansen, who runs the Rohnert Park company that manufactures the temple massager, said plenty of inventors seek to patent their ideas, but “there are tons of them that never get developed.”

Meisch has been on “a lonely, frustrating journey” to bring the temple massager to market, but “we believe in him and in his product,” said Hansen, president of R & D Products. “We keep hoping the door will finally open.”

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit