The entire trip was so fast and happening, I now sit back, rewind and replay my memories, watching it happen very slowly, pausing at special moments to take a good look, and “re- feeling” each and every intense emotion felt back then.
Invited to the CAMTECH Medical Hack-a-thon held at MUST Uganda, a group of 7 students including me started from VIT Vellore with mixed feelings, on the night of 24th August,2013. We were a little sad at the absence of our mentor, Ted Moallem but excited at the same time as this was our first trip outside India.
After reaching Entebe , we went on a small trip to the botanical gardens with Kristian Olson. The next day, we went on a tour to the Mbarara Hospital. The conditions were deplorable. While returning, Shivangi said to me “How about we make a very low cost infant incubator that can be easily installed in the houses as well as the rural health centres?”“ Well, I don’t know if it’s feasible, Shivangi. We will think about it later”, I said. We attended a formal opening ceremony arranged that evening.
Next morning, we arrived at the hall where everyone had gathered and started to ideate and pitch. Shivangi pitched about the neo-natal incubator. “ Okay Shivangi, let’s do this!”, I said. We were joined by Asimwee and Brenda , students of the Mbarara University. We approached mentors. Kris suggested the concept of phase change material for inducing warmth in the incubator. We also wrote to Ted who suggested the same.
Instead of using bellie lights which consume a lot of power, would it be sensible to direct a concentrated source of blue light on to a crumpled aluminium foil after stretching it out? Would it scatter the light sufficiently? Let’s try it out!!
After following an instructable on DIY humidifier, we built it. We covered the insides of the lid with crumpled aluminium foil. Sneaking the burner into the hotel room and playing with beakers, spirit and sodium acetate, we tried all night to achieve the right concentration for making Sodium Acetate trihydrate solution but with little success. The clock ticked . We did not take notice when the sun had risen. Me , Asimwee and Shivangi went to the chemistry lab to make the solution .The preparation was taking too long. I left the place to finish the rest of the prototype.
As I entered, I heard Andrea say, “Alright! Alright! Twenty minutes more to go for the final presentation, guys”, I helplessly looked towards the big blue box lying on the table across the room at some distance from me. Completely Undone. Where is Shivangi? Will we make it on time today? Akshat and I were sharing a soldering rod without a stand. I managed to carelessly place it a couple of times in the wrong way and slightly burn a bunch of things. Akshat glared at me every time but said nothing and I would smile at him, say sorry and shrug it off. I finished soldering the Blue LEDs in series and fixed them on one of the corners of the lid at an angle to point the light over the aluminium surface to scatter the blue light. Works just fine. Perfect. I straighten up to see a smiling Shivangi running towards me with packets of colorless fluid. She did it, I realized. The moment felt ecstatic. We were already victorious, achieving the target we set for ourselves.
With renewed energy, I started melting plastic to make holes in the box using a soldering rod to fit various modules to the incubator. We first placed the dummy baby over the bubble wrap.Then we fixed the humidifier followed by the air vent, IV port , antibiotic port and the oxygen supply port . Rajat burnt his finger while trying to hot glue the humidifier. A midst all the chaos and heavy fumes from the soldering rod, Kris came up and said “What’s the word for ‘life’ in Ugandan language?”. My team mate Brenda said, “Amagara”. “ You can name it Amagara saver”, he suggested. All of us liked it. Suggestion taken. Shivangi carefully labelled each port and gave finishing touches to make the prototype look awesome. It is very portable, consumes almost no power and heat packs can be recycled by keeping them in boiling water and letting them cool down very slowly. Also, disinfects the exterior of the heat pack in the due process.
Out of the six Sodium acetate trihydrate packets made, four were placed in the incubator and two were labelled “trial packs” and used during the presentation for display of the chain reaction. Krishna and Brenda worked hard on the business model and paper presentation. Karthik made the power-point presentation. We were ready for the final show. Our number was seventeenth.
“ And the Community Award goes to the team ‘ Amagara Saver ‘ “ , said David. My mind froze at the same instant as my legs started carrying me towards the stage. As we approached, there was a burst of camera flashlights (which made my already-jammed-mind more confused) and a huge applause. I couldn’t help feeling slightly weak in the knees and very conscious of everyone watching us.
My one true wish is to make an instructable for this prototype of ours using readily available materials . Alas, we had to leave our prototype back in Uganda as it cannot be transported back to India. But we clicked pictures of it to our hearts’ content!