Costa Rica…Again?!

Yep, you read that title correctly, I’m in Costa Rica once again this semester to work on my team’s design project related to peritoneal dialysis (DialOasis or Project EPIC, as it’s been referred to previously)! I arrived on Friday with Erica and will be heading back to Houston early tomorrow morning (Monday). Though this was a short trip, it was jammed packed with work (and even a bit of time to rest and relax!).

The goal of this trip was to visit the homes of our end-users, more specifically, peritoneal dialysis patients who are ineligible for home care. Ineligibility for home care largely stems from the lack of proper infrastructure in their homes to create an enclosed, wind-free space for dialysis. Our solution, for lack of better words, is a tent that creates an isolated environment for patients to perform home dialysis if their home does not meet certain infrastructure requirements. In addition to creating an isolated environment in the home, we hope that the tent will help to enforce procedural compliance, another issue seen here in Costa Rica, by creating an area specifically dedicated to dialysis and only dialysis.

Previously, our team has used drawings, 3D renderings, and small scale 3D prints to communicate our project’s design and purpose, but those don’t send the same message as having something close to the full size and function of the final product in front of you. So, to prepare for this trip, our team put together a simple tent prototype that could communicate the size of our system and the isolation element of it. We used a large square outdoor tent, fabric table clothes, velcro, and a few staples here and there to create a curtain barrier around the tent. This prototype was very simple and easy to transport (very important for the flight from Houston to Liberia, Costa Rica), but most importantly, it was an extremely powerful physical aid for our team to use during the patient visits.

Though we (Erica, Dr. Richardson, and I) have only been in Costa Rica a few short days, we were able to visit and set up the tent in 5 patient homes to get great feedback on the prototype and other aspects of the project. Seeing the tent in person, though very different from our concept drawings, helped the patients better understand what we were talking about and how our device could help them. Our project will greatly benefit moving forward having the information we gathered this weekend.

For me, this trip served as a great reminder of why I studied Bioengineering as an undergraduate and now as a graduate student. Seeing the impact that my skills and knowledge can have on improving someone’s life is incredibly humbling and rewarding. By the end of each visit, the patients were very excited about the prospect of having our finalized system in their house. The work we as Bioengineers do can have such a large impact on healthcare and people’s livelihoods around the globe, not just at home in the US. I’m incredibly grateful that Rice has given me the chance to visit Costa Rica twice this semester to help further this project and communicate my team’s dedication to solving the precarious issue that exists here.

Overall, I count this trip as a huge success! Before this trip, we gathered a lot of helpful input and guidance from clinicians both in Costa Rica and the US, but being able to chat with patients directly has and will help us so much in taking this project further. We now have the challenge of meeting both the demands and requests of the hospital and the patients, but it’s a challenge that my team is quite capable of handling.

I only have one more blog post before graduation, but you’ll definitely be able to stay up to date on this project through the other GMI students’ blogs!

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