As a fellow in neonatology, Shetal Shah spent hundreds of hours jouncing around in ambulances, transporting dangerously ill premature babies to New York University Medical Center’s specialized neonatal unit. “You have a lot of time to think when you’re sitting there,” he says. “I noticed how disruptive these vibrations were to me, and I started thinking, Well, what does it mean for the infant?” Shah, now an assistant professor of pediatrics at SUNY Stony Brook, knew that preemies who have to be transferred between hospitals tend to have more problems than those who don’t–problems that include bleeding in the brain and chronic lung disease. So he set about finding out what role those jolts might play. He adapted an accelerometer, attached it to the head of a neonatal mannequin, and drove around the city in a borrowed ambulance. This gave him approximate measurements of the forces a transported baby experiences every minute. To damp those forces, Shah initially used a free sample of memory foam from a mattress store but eventually developed a patent-pending transport system. Some companies have expressed interest, and the military is studying its potential to help protect soldiers with head trauma.
Credit: Bryan Christie
1) PC: Receives and analyzes data from accelerometer
2) Accelerometer: Measures and records forces experienced by baby during transport
3) Memory foam mattress: Cushions baby, minimizing force of bumps
4) Support frame: Holds incubator in place during transport