Michigan Health Engineered for All Lives (M-HEAL) is a student organization at the University of Michigan developing sustainable solutions to healthcare challenges in low-resource settings. IOE undergraduate Amanda Lee joined M-HEAL two years ago at the start of her sophomore year.
“Through my own research and recommendations from other engineering friends, I found M-HEAL, which seemed to be the perfect combination of my interests in engineering and global health, along with my desire to put the knowledge I learn in school to good use, implementing them into real-world problems,” Amanda said.
When asked what she enjoys most about M-HEAL, Amanda said, “I am able to put my skills and knowledge to good use, and I feel like I’m taking the small steps to making a difference for a certain population in this world, suffering from health issues.” She also appreciates being a part of a community of students from a variety of backgrounds and majors who have come together to work toward a common goal. Outside of her project team, she said M-Heal has also provided many opportunities to expand her knowledge on global health issues and needs.
Amanda is co-project leader of the Maternal Health team which works to alleviate the health disparities in rural areas of Nicaragua for pregnant women. “In these areas, most clinics do not have adequate equipment for doctors to assess the conditions of their patients. In addition to helping make women’s healthcare more accessible in these areas, the Maternal Health team decided to design and build a portable, gynecological exam table that doctors and nurses would be able to carry from clinic to clinic, giving women a safe and secure surface to lie on while being examined properly.”
As project leader, Amanda plans, organizes, and facilitates weekly meetings. She also acts as a liaison between the team and the student organization as a whole. She said, “Lastly, and most importantly in this past school year, as co-project leader, I was working hard on planning our trip to Nicaragua, establishing contact with the host country and locations we would visit and stay at, registering our team’s travel with the College of Engineering, attending the necessary meetings and coordinating with the necessary people, informing team members of their duties and steps they needed to take in getting ready to travel, creating fundraising events to gather support for our cause and our trip, and the list goes on.”
The Nicaragua trip Amanda referred to happened this summer after many years of work and dedication from the Maternal Health team which began in 2010. In 2010, a group of students traveled to Nicaragua to perform a needs assessment. From that trip, the group got the idea to create a portable gynecological exam table.
“A year after this initial assessment trip, the Maternal Health team went back to Nicaragua to present the first prototype of the exam table, receiving extremely helpful feedback and understanding the maternal health needs even better. Two years later, we finally have traveled back to Nicaragua again. These past two years have been spent taking into consideration and implementing the feedback we received from the previous trip to create a beta prototype of the exam table. In addition, throughout the past school year, we researched materials and created a protective backpack and frame to carry the table in. Through all these efforts, we were finally ready to travel to Nicaragua again where we were ultimately able to leave the table to be put to good use with our main partner clinic, Sacuanjoche,” Amanda said.
About half of this most recent trip was paid for by the traveling members of the team. The other half of the trip was paid for by the Maternal Health team’s efforts in fundraising over these past two years and the generosity of individual engineering departments within the University, including IOE, as well as the College of Engineering, Dean Munson, and more. The team also tapped non-university sources, such as Buffalo Wild Wings, Panda Express, and Ben & Jerry’s.
The team accomplished a great deal on their trip. In the first leg of their trip Amanda explained, “We were exposed to the healthcare industry and process through meeting with organizations that trained volunteers within communities to be health promoters, and meeting health promoters themselves. These were people who would be able to recognize what health issues required what sort of assistance. Training these members within individual communities was a key aspect to the rural populations of Nicaragua, as these communities were prone to be much more comfortable seeking out a member within their community rather than to travel far from their homes to unfamiliar and large hospitals, only to be treated roughly.”
The group visited both regional hospitals and small, rural clinics. They toured the facilities and also presented their prototype. They received a great deal of feedback which they’ll be taking into consideration as they plan their team’s future steps. Throughout the trip, Amanda said she was able to utilize her IOE education in identifying the merits of the current healthcare processes and the areas that could improve in efficiency. In addition, ergonomics was crucial in the design of the team’s table. Amanda said, “I was able to implement my ergonomics knowledge learned from my IOE curriculum in noting and evaluating what the general demographic of people would be in operating and lying on the table, how these patients would feel on the table, and the points of safety that needed to be addressed and improved.”
The team spent the majority of their trip in Matagalpa at the Casa Materna, where high-risk pregnant women from rural areas go right before they go into labor to receive proper pre-natal and post-natal care and receive education on maternal and child health. They also visited two clinics including Sacuanjoche, the clinic for which they specifically designed the portable gynecological exam table. Amanda explained the reasoning behind the table, “Doctors and nurses from this maternal health clinic travel out to the surrounding rural communities and conduct exams for the women in these areas. As a result, making the exam table transportable was a key factor in our design process.”
Amanda was deeply affected by her experiences on the trip. “This trip to Nicaragua was definitely one of the most worthwhile experiences of my life. Like a lot of other engineering students, I’m sure, I want to be able to apply the knowledge I’ve learned in college and be able to put it all to good use in the real world once I graduate. I felt like I was already contributing to the world in a much larger sense than I had realized and previously anticipated, even if it might still be on a small scale in the larger sense of global health as a whole. Nonetheless, it was incredible to see how this team, in just a few years, was able to bring to life an incredible design that could assist so many within a developing country like Nicaragua in such a way, and it really opened my eyes to all the ways that engineers can help around the world.”