This past Monday, our cohort was able to finish up our short course presentations. I could only imagine the stress of students who were uncomfortable speaking in English doing so in front of family, friends and professionals. I can barely get a few phrases in Spanish before I require a mental break. But nonetheless, the students did great! Our teams did an excellent job in putting together compelling presentations on the needs they were given.


Soon after, the cohort headed out of the central valley and drove about 2 hours to Guanacaste. But of course, before we reached our destination, we had to make an obligatory stop at POPS (think of it as the Costa Rican equivalent of Braum’s). Once we were initiated, we left for Earth University (La Flor Campus) to stay for about a week and a half. The University sits on about 4,000 acres of land. Earth actually takes a peculiar approach to education, giving scholarships to agricultural students from all over the world. How exactly do they give out so many scholarships? If you bought a mango from wholefoods, there is a chance it actually came from here. You can learn more about the University from their website:

The campus is a literal jungle. I think we were spoiled our first week being in the central valley. There weren’t that many mosquitoes in San Jose, but in Guanacaste, us Gringos are like a walking buffet (please refer to Chandler’s blog post for more details). But with that said, being able to see monkeys, iguanas and other critters have been pretty awesome! There has been rumored sightings of jaguar in the area, so if I do not post next week, expect the worst.


Earth University (Liberia)


All joking aside, it has been a pretty eventful week. Tuesday, we spent time getting to know more about the University and their vision.  In the evening, we were able to go to a nearby University called Invenio. It is with this University that we plan on collaborating with to build our portable peritoneal dialysis unit. We met with one of the University’s directors, Roy, and went straight into playing games. Already, you can see that Guanacaste has a different pace and vibe. So anyways, here we were, eight graduate students, participating in games that required us to use teamwork to solve problems. Seems easy enough—or so we thought. Just as we were about to finish our games, Roy pulls out a red handkerchief and puts a grin on his face. We’ve all have had that moment in life, when you see something horrible happening right before your eyes, but all you can do is stare as it happens. In our case, the staring didn’t last very long. Roy blindfolded half the team just to make our lives harder. Even though we had our struggles throughout the games, I think our group learned some valuable lessons:


  1. Communication is a vital part of successful team building
  2. Having defined team roles can expedite the process
  3. Trusting others can be frightening, but in many cases successful
  4. Have a raincoat/umbrella handy because rain is inevitable



The next day, we went to a rocket company called Ad Astra, which was actually located on Earth’s campus. This company didn’t really have anything to do with medical device innovation, but it is not every day you get to see plasma propelled rocket engines that could potentially send humankind to Mars. The company actually had ventures into different energy solutions to minimize the carbon footprint made by vehicles in Costa Rica (which accounts for approximately 40% of their pollution) . Hydrogen fueled buses are actually currently being tested for use in Costa Rica. Some pretty crazy stuff is being innovated here!

Plasma propelled rocket engine (VASIMR) diagram                                           

Photo of VASIMR project







After our nerd-out, we headed over to Hospital Liberia to conduct some needs finding. We arrived at a red and grey cement structure with yellow bars barricading the walls. We met with a doctor from pathology and asked him about the procedures involved in a typical biopsy. Essentially, segments of tissue are taken from a sample, loaded onto a ‘cassette’, combined with paraffin wax, then sliced in .03 mm slices. These slices are put on to glass slides and taken for dye marker testing. The pathologist then gave us brief tour of the different rooms in the wing, including the morgue (fortunately vacant when we were there). We capped off the evening with a lecture from Dr. Anna Cecilia Rodriguez, a leading researcher on epidemiological studies on HPV and cervical cancer. Fun fact: there is a high likelihood that you will have a carcinogenic HPV virus during some point of your life.



Thursday we spent the morning once again at Invenio to plan our construction of the dialysis room or “cuartito” as the locals refer to it as. We discussed both how to optimally construct/deconstruct the device while also maintaining reasonable material cost. Afterwards, we went to Hospital Liberia again, but to visit both the physical therapy and dialysis wings of the hospital. The physical therapy workers expressed some concerns they had over the difficulty in using certain rehabilitation machines (especially for wheelchair bound patients). The dialysis unit allowed us to view the procedure for a typical peritoneal dialysis (shout out to Anna Richardson for tagging along with us!). Patients are typically at the hospital for 12 hours a day for 5 days a week. That’s 70 hours of hospital time that could be saved by the patient if proper implementation of the dialysis project is executed. I think we as a group realize just how dire of a need it is for these patients.



And proper implementation of this project is exactly what our group strived to plan for on Friday. We delegated the project aspects of materials, building and testing amongst the group. From there, we sat down and scheduled how we were to accomplish our goals, and how long it would take at each phase. Although we expect certain aspects of the planning to not go as smoothly, we also expect that with these clear goals, we can accomplish a great amount in the upcoming week!



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