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Q&A with Amy Kavalewitz and Danny Blacker of Rice University

by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor | June 19, 2020
Amy Kavalewitz
From the May 2020 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Hospital Spotlight debuted nearly a decade ago and has been in every issue since — until now. Hospitals are understandably focusing all efforts on battling the pandemic and keeping staff safe. Since the pandemic was preventing a regular spotlight, it seems only appropriate that our non-hospital Hospital Spotlight is focusing on a group that has created a tool to help patients survive the illness. The team at Rice is sharing design plans for DIY ventilators free online for healthcare professionals to use if they find their facilities critically short of ventilators. HealthCare Business News spoke with Amy Kavalewitz, executive director of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen and Danny Blacker, engineering design supervisor of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen at Rice University, to learn more.

HCB News: I read this was designed as a senior project last year. When did that project actually start?
Amy Kavalewitz: The project began at the start of that school year, which was August 2018. It ran two semesters and ended at the end of the school year in May of 2019. The project got to the point of what their academics required, then the students graduated. With the onset of coronavirus, people saw the videos associated with the project and started reaching out to us.

Rice University
HCB News: With the timeline, as you said, starting in August of 2018, that was obviously long before COVID-19 existed. So what was the impetus for pursuing the project at the start?
AK: Basically, our concept for our engineering design courses is to bring real-world projects for our students to work on. At the beginning of each school year or semester, we have people from the industry, medical centers, from independent organizations, come and pitch projects to the students that they want them to work on. The students choose from those options. When Dr. Rohith Malya had this idea for this automated bag valve mask, he pitched the idea to the students and they chose it and worked on it for two semesters with him.

HCB News: Where you find yourself today with the project is partly the result of a YouTube video getting posted?
AK: Yes, so a few of our projects each year are covered by our public affairs department and they’ll do a little video. It’s usually five to 10 of our 100+ projects we do in the Design Kitchen. So the videos get posted and it’s nice to share with people the kind of work we’re doing. But I guess when COVID hit and people started researching these types of ventilators and projects like this, that video kept coming up. All of a sudden we started getting all these requests. That was probably about three weeks into March. Our students were told to start staying home around March 16, and I think it was two days later that we started getting so many requests that we formed a new team.

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