Students, professionals and faculty University-wide joined forces to generate solutions to some of the challenges faced by Ebola patients.

Finding innovative solutions specific to the Ebola outbreak was the focus of a recent three-day design and planning period hosted by the School of Art and Design.

Caused by a strain of the Ebola virus, the disease is rare and deadly. The recent Ebola epidemic has been the largest in history. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 23,694 suspected, probable and confirmed cases of Ebola in West Africa as of Feb. 21, and there have been four laboratory-confirmed cases in the United States.

In addition to the Art and Design School event, the University has created a response plan in the unlikely situation that Ebola reaches the University, as well as worked with the Michigan Nurses Association to take precautions for nurses who would treat the virus.

The event focused on creating equipment around three themes: protecting those caring for Ebola patients, improving communication in the face of cultural and linguistic barriers and creating a safer way to transport infected patients.

Five teams, comprising five to eight participants from different disciplines, conceptualized, designed and created a product to help patients affected by Ebola.

The first product met the challenge of the first theme: improving personal protective equipment. The protective suits previously employed fit only a small number of body types. They often tear and break and can expose caregivers to contaminating fluids.

Several solutions were created to solve this issue. The first, a disposable doffing strap, makes the process of removing the bodysuit easier because wearers do not have to touch the outside of the suit to remove it. The next item created was a visor-based protective garment — a garment that can be modified to fit the user, with a detachable visor that covers the head. The third is a glove removal tool. A disposable sticker, attached to the inside of the glove, allows for easier removal of the glove.

Josh Botkin, entrepreneur in residence at the Ross School of Business, was a member of this group. He said he was very impressed with the high quality of the concepts designed in the project.

“There was such strong spirit of collaboration and shared purpose that were really apparent throughout the entire event,” Botkin said.

The second product met the challenge of improving communication across cultural and linguistic barriers.

When patients are tested positive for Ebola, they often have to say goodbye to their families to be treated. Since patients are not supposed to touch anyone else, saying goodbye to loved ones can be more painful in that the process lacks physical contact. The solution to the problem comes in the form of the Embrace, a large fabric panel that allows a hug between an infected person and a non-infected person.

The third product aims to improve personal protective equipment by creating a sheet, the Transformative Tyvek, which assists in the hygienic handling of fluids and bodies. The sheet can be worn to cover the body of someone who is handling an Ebola patient. It includes directions to use the sheet as a bed sheet, vomit container, apron, mask and body bag.

Art and Design senior Kelly Sadlon was a member of the group that created the Transformative Tykev sheet. She said though each group was working on separate projects, they were collaborating with each other because each group knew what the others were doing.

“It was a great chance to build my leadership qualities and a good experience working in an interdisciplinary environment,” Sadlon said. “I’ve had a few experiences working with interdisciplinary fields but not with public health or engineering so it was very interesting to gain that perspective. When you’re working in an interdisciplinary team, you’re admitting that you don’t have all of the knowledge and you learn to cooperate with people.”

The fourth product was designed to improve health communication across cultural and linguistic barriers. The Ebola Survival Radio works to improve communication between workers and villagers. It will also serve as a way for survivors and family members of those affected to share their stories.

In an e-mail interview, Corinne Lee, who is in the School of Nursing’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program and was a member of the Ebola Survival Radio group, wrote that the most rewarding part of the project was that it did not stop after the competition ended.

“We are now told that the prototypes have been taken over to be considered for utilization in West Africa,” Lee wrote. “And that was a rewarding moment that I have been involved in something that could impact more than just my little world.”

Participants also created a guide for family members caring for an Ebola patient in a low-income area. The guide shows situations where everyday items can be used to limit the risk of contamination while caring for and cleaning up after the contaminated person.

Botkin said the event showcased the University’s ability to provide students with powerful experiential learning that can also benefit society.

“I look forward to seeing some of the teams’ designs move out into the world, where they can help improve the health, safety and well-being of Ebola patients, their family members and healthcare workers in Africa and beyond,” Botkin said.

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