Developing countries need access to better medical equipment, but cost is often a barrier. Screws surgeons implant to treat a broken leg might cost thousands of dollars, for example. Meanwhile, medical devices in the United States are updated constantly, and that leaves manufacturing companies with older generations of equipment sitting in warehouses, unused.
Dheera Ananthakrishnan ’90 knows this situation well. She’s a practicing orthopedic surgeon at Emory University in Atlanta who has also worked with Doctors Without Borders and the World Health Organization.
In 2009 Ananthakrishnan created Orthopaedic Link, a nonprofit organization that helps transport unused orthopedic equipment from the United States to surgeons in developing nations such as the Philippines, Nepal, and Bulgaria. Doctors train local physicians on how to use the equipment before handing it off, and patients don’t pay for the devices out of pocket.
The device industry benefits from this too, because doctors are more likely to purchase equipment from companies whose products they have already worked with.
“In addition to impacting patients’ lives, we’ve enhanced the skill sets of the students, nurses, residents, and physicians as well,” Ananthakrishnan says. “The effects are more than we’d hoped for. We have to turn patients away at this point.”
Ananthakrishnan had wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon ever since she broke her leg at age 10, so she focused on a pre-med route at MIT. “I planned on majoring in biology, but after getting involved in a limb prosthesis project in [Professor Emeritus] Woodie Flowers’s lab, I decided to switch majors,” she says. Instead of biology, she pursued mechanical engineering.
Ananthakrishnan spoke at the 2018 MIT Women’s unConference, leading a panel called “The Road Less Traveled” with fellow alumnae who are also thriving in male-dominated fields. “The part that resonated the most with the audience was when we talked about our struggles,” she says.
“When you see a super-successful person, often you think there’s nothing about them that’s like you,” she adds. “But hearing about their struggles is very humanizing. It helps to know that you’re not alone, and that you too can be successful even in the most difficult environments. I learned this first at MIT.”