Correction appended: Julia Samorezov is the vice president of M-Heal. An earlier version of this story identified her as the group’s president.
A surgeon is performing open heart surgery in the Philippines. But halfway through, the hospital loses power. The lights go out. The nurses fumble around in the dark until they find a flashlight. With no other option, the doctor continues the surgery with only the flashlight’s single beam of light for guidance.
This is not a fictional story.
Hospitals in the Philippines and across the world frequently experience blackouts in the middle of surgeries and use flashlights as their only light source. A University student group, Michigan’s Health Engineered for All Lives (M-HEAL), is trying solve this problem.
Last January, a group of 12 M-HEAL members, all College of Engineering students, began constructing a design for a battery-operated surgical lamp.
Julia Samorezov, vice president and co-founder of M-HEAL, said the group thought of the idea after meeting technicians from World Medical Relief — a non-profit organization based in Detroit — who traveled to the Philippines and assisted in a surgery that was performed in the dark with a flashlight.
“We figured if we could develop a light that had good optical properties and at the same time had good battery backup so that if there was an electricity shortage or a blackout or a brownout, the light could still keep running,” Samorezov said.
Stephen DeWitt, who led the lamp design, said the group’s aim was to set the cost of initial prototype lamps at $200 so developing countries could afford to construct them.
“The long-term goal is to meet up with entrepreneurs in the developing countries themselves and have them fabricate it,” DeWitt said.
He said that once the lamp becomes mass-produced, the cost should eventually decrease because of lower material and labor costs.
The project is currently funded by the University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.
Initially the lamp was to be piloted in Ghana and Uganda, but the first prototype will be sent with World Medical Relief to Liberia in March.
Samarezov said M-HEAL plans to keep up contact with the hospital testing the lamp so they can later determine what improvements need to be made.
“We want to go there, drop the lamp off, see how it does and see if the technicians and the hospitals think ‘Oh this is great, but we would really like it if it also did this,’” she said. “So we really want to have a good dialogue with the people there, come back, make improvements and then turn it into a business model where we can get the plans to people in the developing world.”
If the lamp works successfully in Liberia, M-HEAL plans to produce another four lamps by the end of the semester to send with WMR and other University medical student groups traveling to countries over the summer.
In addition to the surgical lamp, the group has been researching new design ideas. One idea is to create a centrifuge that relies on a gyroscope and can be hand-powered to spin blood samples. These samples would show how much iron is in the blood and would indicate if a patient was anemic.
Another idea is to invent a reusable glucometer test strip that people with diabetes can use to check their blood sugar.
Samarezov said M-HEAL sent out surveys last spring to hospitals in Jamaica, Mongolia and Cuba, which identified centrifuges and glucometers as “high-need items.”
“Our design plan is to have some people research these ideas and see if they’re feasible, see if its already been done and then take it to the same process the lamp has been through,” she said.
Aileen Huang-Saad, M-HEAL advisor and biomedical engineering lecturer, said she is excited about the potential of the surgical lamp.
“I think we have an extremely dedicated group of individuals that have really identified some critical needs and (have shown) how students at the University of Michigan can impact people beyond borders,” she said.