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VIDEO: Engineering World Health Repairs Locally, Thinks Globally

At the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, fulfilling global health needs in developing countries drives many research groups, design projects, and study abroad programs.

But biomedical engineering junior Kelly Shelden realized last spring that students could do more — that by volunteering just a few hours a month locally, their services could have global impact.

So Shelden and fellow student Sunitha Suresh started a local chapter of Engineering World Health, a national student organization that helps repair medical devices for use in developing countries. Started at Duke University, the organization now has more than a dozen chapters across the country

"It's a way to make a difference on campus," Shelden says.

Since forming in the spring, the group has held several repair sessions on Saturdays. In the first session, students built defibrillator test kits — "It was a way for us to gain technical skills like soldering and circuit design," Shelden says — and this fall, the group used those test kits to test old defibrillators.

The group works with Mission Outreach, an organization that partners with hospitals in Illinois and Wisconsin to collect old equipment, refurbish it, and send it to developing countries in South America and Africa.

"They just have so much equipment that they can't fix it all, so it sits in a warehouse," Shelden says. "We help them repair equipment, and when they send the equipment out, they track the serial numbers, so we'll know which hospital this equipment ends up at."

In a recent repair session, more than dozen students fixed IV pumps, pulse oximeters, defibrillators, and an ECG machine. Sometimes it's just a matter of replacing a battery or plug; other times, connections or probes need repair.

"It's a process of elimination," Shelden says. "We look at what works, what doesn't work, what parts we need. If we run into problems, we have graduate students and faculty there to help us."

The group hopes to eventually bring in speakers and get technical training, and they also hope to take defibrillator test kits to local high schools to teach teens both technical skills and about global health issues in developing countries.

"We have great resources here with the focus on health care design for the developing world," Shelden says. "This offers another way for undergraduate students to be exposed to that."

- Video by Matt Dalzell. Article by Emily Ayshford. Music by Kevin McLeod.