After winning a social innovation competition through Brigham Young University (BYU) Marriott School, the university' spinoff Neonatal Rescue is poised to introduce its newborn ventilator machine to the developing world to save babies' lives. The NeoLife Ventilator is a new, innovative piece of medical equipment for newborn babies. The device offers the same CPAP technology used to treat and resuscitate babies in hospitals in the U.S., but at a fraction of the cost. Potentially, this machine can save millions of lives throughout the world and help third world countries improve the outcome of newborns.
The group of students entered BYU's Y-Prize Newborn Challenge in December 2015, a competition put on by the Marriott School's Ballard Center for Economic Reliance. They pulled world-class doctors, engineers, and businessmen into their circle to develop a working prototype of the device, introduce it to leading doctors and government officials on the ground in Cambodia, and put together a plan of sustainability.
After a pitching to investors and winning the final competition in December 2016, the team was going to use the initial $50,000 to launch a trial run of 10 devices in Cambodia. They anticipate being able to save 3,500 to 5,000 babies a year in Cambodia who would otherwise die of respiratory issues.
Dr Stephen Minton, the founder of the Utah Valley Newborn Intensive Care Unit and director of the NICU development team for Intermountain Health Care, mentioned that they use CPAP and ventilation technology every day in the NICU to save lives. Minton joined the team early on, traveled to Cambodia with them, and has been indispensable in developing the ventilator and the proper training protocol to go with it.
For Kindall and Erica Palmer, the husband-wife duo who started the team, the issue of newborn respiration became much more personal after Erica gave birth to the couples' first baby four months into the competition. Although the delivery went smoothly, just hours later Palmer's baby started turning blue and was rushed to the NICU. As the doctors frantically tried to figure out what was wrong, the Palmers watched their baby become dependent on a ventilator, the very same type of machine they were working on placing in Cambodia. It took two months, four surgeries and many weeks on the ventilator before their baby would be well enough to come home with them.
Kindall Palmer explained that this really put into perspective what the parents and entire family go through in these situations and made it real to them. This isn't just a school project. These are people's lives. Lost potential is like a candle being blown out because they don't have a simple $400 machine.
In addition to partnering with UVH doctors, Neonatal Rescue has teamed up with local medical manufacturing facility ATL Technology to engineer the ventilator. ATL generously donated hundreds of hours of time and engineering fees to the development of the device. The group was planning to set up testing on the NeoLife Ventilator in 2017 at the University of Utah before they head back to Cambodia.