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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Brazil Trip

Semester Blog Seven

Alright! Sorry for the delay, the last three weeks have been a whirlwind of travel between Brazil and vacation and getting ready for jobs after graduation. Two weeks ago, I went to Brazil to test my device, get the mobile and web-side translated, and discuss the business aspects of the projects. It was a very product, very promising trip, and I am incredibly grateful and proud of what the Barretos Cancer Hospital has accomplished. I highly recommend, if you have any interest in either my project or the hospital in general you see this website:

They do some amazing work, have caring and passionate employees, and are some of the most welcoming people I have ever met. If you have a chance to look over some of their work and the history of the hospital (interesting in and of itself) I highly recommend it.

I had three main objectives with my visit:

  1. Translate and modify as necessary the RedCAP website to determine the optimal balance between time to input data and requirement of important data
  2. Test the app and the mechanical prototype with physicians and nurses to determine areas for improvement
  3. Discuss a potential business model for the mechanical device.

All of these objectives were successfully met (though as always, there is more work to be done!) and between the Barretos Dermatology team and myself we drafted a plan for moving forward. An itsy bitsy flowchart of this plan can be seen at the bottom of this blog. For the rest of this blog I want to talk a bit of what I learned by prepping for this travel and during the travel itself:

  1. Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. A pretty common phrase but it’s true! We were communication for my travel (GMI and Barretos) for a number of weeks before the travel, organizing who needs to be at what meeting, and what needs to be accomplished. This, and having a detailed personal schedule, helped the trip be very productive.
  2. Have someone who it both fluent in the native language and who understand your project. It is much easier to communicate to others how a device works and obtain honest feedback on the device when you have someone fluent in the native language. People are more open to discussing problems and dislikes in their own language.
  3. Document everything. Have a notebook and write down everything from what people say to how they react to things. Not all feedback is verbal, some in body language or subtle movements or struggles that are not voiced. These clues are just as important as what is said.

Overall the trip was amazing both in its productivity and hospitality. Also, Brazilian cheese bread (Pão de Queijo) is mind-blowing. Find some, you won’t regret it. It’s gluten-free! Not for the lactose intolerant though…

Next up is Michael who will be traveling (again!) to Costa Rica to do some prototype testing of our design.

That’s it from me! Until next time,


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More Travel and Exciting Speakers

The second semester of GMI has been moving by quickly and we’ve been making a lot of progress on our projects. Recently the focus has been on our team design project, working to improve peritoneal dialysis in Costa Rica. Michael, Luis, and Dr. Richardson came back from their trip to Costa Rica with a lot of important information and answered questions, and we got right back to work applying them to our designs. We’ve actually already planned yet another trip to Costa Rica that Michael, Dr. Richardson, and I will be on at the end of March, where we’ll be able to work more directly with the patients we hope to help and get their feedback on our initial designs and prototypes. It’s a good thing Costa Rica is only a short 3 hour flight away!

Aside from our projects and elective classes, there’s another class that is part of the GMI program that I’ve really enjoyed recently. Medical Technology Design Seminar, which is open to other Bioengineering students as well, involves speakers that come in each week to give talks about different aspects of the medical technology industry. These talks provide great opportunities for networking and for learning more about areas of the industry we may or may not be familiar with.

A few weeks ago we heard from Dan Watkins from Mercury Fund, a venture capital firm that that invests in start-ups, including many in the medical device and software areas. It was interesting to hear about the business and financial side of the industry and how the firm decides whether to invest in a new company that could potentially have a large impact. Last week we heard from Paul Iaizzo, Principal Investigator of the Visible Heart Laboratory at the University of Minnesota. The lab performs translational systems physiology research, and it was exciting to hear about and see videos of projects they have worked on.

Through this course we’ve heard from professionals from large companies, small companies, academia, and more. Each speaker has given us unique insights into the medical technology and beyond, and this course has been very valuable as I decide which direction I would like to go in the industry.

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Costa Rica Round 2!

I know I have said this before, but time is TRULY flying by! It has already been a week since I returned from my trip to Costa Rica with Luis and Dr. Richardson. The three of us traveled to Costa Rica to work on two projects: EPIC, our group design project focused on peritoneal dialysis, and VisRefr, a secure messaging app for easy physician-specialist consultations (Luis leads this project). The trip was less than a week long, but jam-packed with meetings with various nurses and clinicians around the country. Overall, the trip was a major success and extremely productive. The information we gathered during our trip has already helped our team tremendously in the past week for our two projects based in Costa Rica.

Our schedule in Costa Rica was hectic, to say the least. Luis and I headed out to San Jose, Costa Rica in the evening on February 8th. We started our day quite early (had to wake up at 5 am) with a visit to Hospital Mexico to discuss VisRefr with the project sponsor, Dr. Vargas. Luis and I reviewed the VisRefr app mock-up the team developed the previous week with Dr. Vargas and got some feedback. After providing her thoughts on the app, Dr. Vargas arranged for Luis and I to meet with a number of nurses and clinicians throughout the morning to receive additional user testing feedback. We got feedback from almost 15 nurses and clinicians, all of different experience levels and age. This feedback will undoubtedly be extremely helpful as Luis continues to develop the VisRefr application.

After our work was done at Hospital Mexico, Luis and I were ready to start our drive to Liberia (~4 hours) to begin work on Project EPIC at the Liberia Hospital. Before we started the drive, we were able to grab a quick lunch and ice cream at Rosti Pollos and Pops with our friend Jorge. It was great to see Jorge again (it’s already been 2 months since he left Rice!), and an added bonus to get food from the two places the GMI crew frequented this past summer in Costa Rica. After a long and tiring drive to Liberia (thanks, Luis!), we rested up at the hotel and planned for our next couple of days.

Dr. Richardson joined Luis and me in Liberia on the 9th, and the three of us shipped out to the Liberia Hospital early in the morning of the 10th to get started on project EPIC. The week before we left for Costa Rica, the entire team developed a list of high priority questions related to patient care and home dialysis training that we hoped to have answered during our trip. When we arrived to the Liberia Hospital (we had previously visited in June), we were able to get an incredible amount of information from observations and personal meetings with nurses and clinicians within a matter of hours. We not only gathered information from the high priority questions, but were also able to get feedback on some of the concepts our team developed, allowing us to pinpoint the top 3 concepts to date.

After a productive morning at the Liberia Hospital, we traveled about 45 minutes south of Liberia to visit the Cais de Cañas (a smaller hospital that services the city of Cañas). We had two objectives at the Cais: 1) meet with Diego, a nurse who collaborates with Dr. Vargas on the VisRefr project, to get his feedback on the app mock-up, and 2) if possible, visit the dialysis clinic at the Cais to gather feedback on our top concepts and compare/contrast their dialysis clinic to the one in Liberia. After a few hours, we were able to accomplish both of those goals, and learned quite a bit about the differences between the capabilities of the dialysis clinics in Liberia and Cañas.

If you are exhausted from reading about our trip up to this point, imagine how we felt! But despite the exhaustion we felt from the long days in the hospitals, the progress we already made in two short days of information gathering was too exciting to slow down!

On my last day in Costa Rica, Dr. Richardson, Luis, and I visited the Liberia Hospital once more to gather additional information about the equipment used for peritoneal dialysis in Costa Rica. Having consulted with a few dialysis clinical experts in Houston over the past few weeks, it was important for us to understand all similarities and differences between dialysis treatment in the US and Costa Rica , including any equipment used during catheter implantation and at-home dialysis administration.

After three short, but quite full, days in Costa Rica, I returned to Houston and jumped right back into doing work on our various projects. The pace of GMI has definitely picked up recently, partly due to our various international travel. Though a bit overwhelming at first, we have hit such a nice stride in our project development work style that it’s not hard to keep up the momentum and continue churning out results!

We have less than 3 months until graduation, but a lot more to do for our projects before then. Be sure to keep checking in every week to see what we are up to! I guarantee we will all have lots to share each week 😀

–Michael Hart

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HULK (Teledermatology Update)

Guess what?! I finally, FINALLY, have a working prototype for the Dermatology project in Barretos. It’s got crappy low quality 3d print ridges, it’s held together by duct tape and white foam, and its bright green (I’ve so dubbed it Hulk—because it smashes cancer!! Or maybe just because it’s green and I watch too much Marvel) but it’s been built and it can magnify lesions! Also, I soldered stuff without blowing up more than one LED (RIP little light bulb…). So, that’s cool too.


There are still a few things that I will need to address before I held to Brazil again in four weeks but it seems technology is finally on my side. I would like to give a quick shout out to Dr. Kelly Nelson, from MD Anderson Cancer Hospital (no relation), who has been helping me with the finer points of being a dermatologist and looking for skin cancer. Anyway, just wanted to prove to you all that I’m still making progress. Next blog you’ll hear from me will be about the Brazil Trip! Hopefully I’ll have some pictures to go along with it.


But onto the more important stuff, Team Sprints!


So, if you’ve been following the blogs by now you’re well aware of how the sprint process works and how its been implemented into our curriculum and I have to say…I really like it. When you have so many projects flying around (TruVent, Personal Project, Team Project, Classes…) it’s difficult to feel as if you’re accomplishing anything. With the sprint methodology it’s easy to visualize what each week is going to look like and what will be accomplished. I feel like we are making a lot of progress.


We just finished our first “real” (there was a mini one) Sprint for our team project down in Costa Rica and, with the help of my amazing team (seriously, they are the best. Super proud to have them around), we turned an unclear, jumbled mess into a clear path forward. Hopefully with the trip Michael and Luis are taking this weekend we will make even more progress into defining what areas we want to tackle. Peritoneal Dialysis is complicated and has a lot of room for improvement, I believe we chose the right need to tackle despite the challenges of working in a developing community.


Anyway, short blog post this week. Michael will have a lot more to say upon his return from Costa Rica!


Later gators,


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Truly Global

After a month through the Spring Semester, I must say many of the expectations I blogged about at the very beginning have been met while others have drastically pivoted for the best. For the past few weeks we have been implementing our version of the Sprint methodology – which in itself takes from Agile project management; this has influenced the way our projects are being handled very heavily. In my particular case, I feel like this semester shifted completely towards fulfilling projects for my home country of Costa Rica.

The first “individual project” Sprint we had was VisRefr, the project I’m in charge of, followed by our team design project. By now it should be no surprise that both of them are directed towards the Costa Rican healthcare system and it has enough implications in it that it warrants us travelling down there again for a few days. This week Michael and I are going down for some interviews, user testing, expert feedback and any other information we may find. In VisRefr’s case, we will be visiting Hospital Mexico in San Jose, the Cañas Clinic in Guanacaste and maybe even the Liberia Hospital. I am hoping to collect some valuable user feedback from the mockup we focused our efforts in making during the Sprint. For the Design project we will just visit the Liberia Hospital since that is where most of the information we need can be gathered. From a technical standpoint I have very high hopes from all the data we can collect in our short 3 day trip, whereas from a more personal standpoint I hope I have the stamina for so much travel! The flight to CR is something I am used to but the 3-4 hour drive to Liberia I have not done in a few years, we’ll see how that goes – talk about an eventful Spring Recess! At least I get to see my family for a full day before returning to Houston next week.

On a more profound note regarding my overall feelings for the program so far, I am still more than glad to have chosen such a wonderful opportunity. In the past few weeks I have been exposed to professionals, experts and faculty who have offered me advise on what my opportunities are once we graduate in May. I am now convinced I should go back to Costa Rica where I can have a more immediate impact on society by offering my newly acquired expertise in the field. I would be lying if I say I am certain on precisely what I will do back home right after graduation, but I have newfound feelings to involve myself more in our governance and policy-making to make sure there is room for innovation there. As an international student I have felt more than welcomed by the American lifestyle; despite the few shortcomings often portrayed by the media and politicians, it has been an embracing second home. Through the GMI program I feel like I have learned a lot more about my place in society – somewhere I can be of service and pioneer in the fields of bioengineering (and whatnot!) Beyond the technical expertise that I expected to acquire in a Master’s of Bioengineering, the leadership values that we are immersed in during our stay in Rice University and through the brilliant living example that we are exposed to everyday with Dr. Richardson are possibly what has made me pivot around what my personal ambitions are. Some day I hope I can move beyond Costa Rica and even beyond Houston and find a way to scale up my vision to a truly global perspective.

As I have said before, I am grateful to be part of this experience – I have trouble imagining how it could get any better, but I welcome any surprises that await; after all, we still have a little under three months of relentless Sprints, travel and presentations!

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Projects and Progress!

This semester is off to a great start! We’re completing our third Sprint (See Jeannette and Michael’s most recent posts for an explanation!) and have accomplished a lot with each one so far. First we worked on TruVent, the bag valve mask ventilation project that will assist in training doctors to successfully deliver breathing assistance to patients. We split up into teams of two to tackle different parts of the prototype that we felt needed significant improvement, and then put it all together. We made good progress on the prototype and are clear on the next steps that are needed to get it completely ready for a clinical trial in the near future.

We then worked on our team design project, which involves improving dialysis treatment in Costa Rica. We’ll be designing a system that makes it possible for more peritoneal dialysis patients in the Guanacaste region to have their dialysis treatments at home with a low risk of infection, freeing up space in the hospital and allowing them to be with their families. This Sprint was focused on putting ourselves in the best position to make progress on this project during the semester. We did additional research to ensure we completely understand the physiology of dialysis and complications that can arise, as well as the current products on the market. We also got in contact with some local dialysis experts and clinics in order to get their perspective. Michael and Luis will be traveling to Costa Rica next week, where they can get clarification on some of the questions that came up during the Sprint and speak with more people there about their specific needs.

We are now working on VisRefr, the app-based project that is being led by Luis. Though many of us have no experience in app design, we’ve all been able to contribute many ideas about how the app will look and function.

The Sprint structure of this semester has been a positive change in my opinion. It allows us to focus on just one project at a time, where we can put all of our time and effort. This results in a huge amount of progress being made on a project in just one week. All of our projects are very different, so it has been exciting to use very different skillsets each week. We learned early on that a very focused approach is best. Having the entire team work specifically on a part of the project that we consider vital to the design and/or something the project leader has been struggling with yields the best results. It has been great to all work together as a team and bring each of our expertise and experiences to each individual project.

To get some more information and practice with the Sprint methodology, we recently participated in a two day “Agile Scrum Immersion” workshop, which is a similar ideology to what we read about in the “Sprint” book. We learned about the origins of this method, its important attributes, and how to implement it successfully. The method began with use in software development, but has since expanded to be used in many types of engineering projects, including medical device design. We did fun activities as a team in very limited amounts of time, such as making a brochure for a vacation destination we designed, which emphasized important aspects of a Sprint. We took away many lessons to integrate into our Sprints to make them the most productive weeks possible.

I’m looking forward to continuing the Sprints this semester and seeing how much we can accomplish as a team!

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Starting Spring Semester Strong!

We are already three weeks into our second (and final) semester of GMI! The GMI team hit the ground running when we returned from break and have been busy working on our design projects. As Jeannette mentioned in her recent blog, we have transitioned to a “sprint” work style, meaning the entire team focuses on one project at a time, for one week at a time. By doing this, it is expected that our team will be more productive and will be able to produce significant results after one week with all four of us working on the same project concurrently.

To become more familiar with the “sprint” work style, the team read a book from Google Ventures called “Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days”, detailing how the sprint method was developed and it’s successes and failures to date with various tech startups and companies. Additionally, this week the team will be receiving a formal 2-day training in the Agile method (quite similar to the “sprint” method described in the book from Google Ventures) where we will practice running one of our projects through a rapid product development cycle. Though this fast paced work style will be an adjustment from our typical work pattern (usually we work on a few projects simultaneously), I’m excited to see the outcomes after every “sprint”. Having the entire team focused on one project at a time will not only drive results for our group design and individual projects, but also provide us with more team experience and an opportunity to further develop team camaraderie.

Aside from the new work style we are adopting this semester, we have already begun planning out some international travel. Since our GMI group design project is based in Costa Rica this year, we are planning to travel there twice this semester, once in February (in about three weeks) and once in April. The first trip will be focused on information gathering, primarily through talks with field clinicians and dialysis clinics in order to validate the information we previously gathered, as well as to clarify a number of questions we have generated while working on the project. Our second trip will likely be to conduct some field testing of our functional prototype in the setting it is intended to be used in (within homes in rural northern Costa Rica). As of now, I will be going on both Costa Rica trips (the first with Luis, and the second with Erica). This year, each GMI student is allotted two international work trips. Because I did not go on any international trip last semester, I am fortunate enough to be able to join two work trips this semester.

We are moving fast this semester, so by the time I blog again next month, I will have a lot to share about all of the progress we have made on our projects! I’m really excited to jump into these “sprints” and see what my team will be able to accomplish every week in just a few days!

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Sprint Out the Gate!

A new semester! And probably the last semester I will have (of school) for some time. It’s an exciting prospect. The winter break was good, both for catching up with the hobbies I can’t really do in Houston (climbing, snowboarding, and trail running to name a few) and hanging out with family and friends. While a couple minor things made forward progress with my projects, in general, not much has changed since the last time we talked. So…what to talk about on the blog?


Right! The team is trying something new this semester. It’s called a Sprint or, in our case, multiple Sprints over the course of the whole semester. But first, a bit of context.

One of the most challenging things about this program is the balancing act. For last semester not only are we all taking required classes outside of those required for GMI but we also have all of our projects. Last semester we were struggling our time between these (1) other classes, (2) Truvent (the “smart” AmbuBag), (3) our personal project (Teledermatology in Brazil for me), (4) the team project (Needs finding and narrowing primarily—we’ve now nailed down Costa Rica Dialysis as our project), (5) working (I worked 20 hours at LivaNova as an intern in their electrical R&D lab, the others all had TA jobs or other commitments), and finally (6) trying to find a job after college. Oh, and sprinkle national and international travel in there as well.

Sounds like a lot, huh? Don’t worry, IT IS manageable (though I am not working this semester so that I can definitely get my graduate commitments completed). The hardest part though, and I think what added to the stress and difficulty of last semester, was trying to switch focus from one thing to another to another. Everyone had different schedules so it was exceedingly challenging to make forward progress on all of these things all the time. Which brings me back to the Sprint.

If you’ve never heard of the Sprint style before, its taking a week and focusing, as a team, on just one thing. This week we are focusing on Truvent and getting a working, testable prototype together (If you want more information the book Sprint by Jake Knapp is a surprisingly good and quick read). This also means that everyone will have a hand in everyone else’s personal projects. Of course, there will still be an owner, they lead the sprint (LEADERSHIP OPPORTUNITIES -cough- resume buzzword -cough-). Each sprint will jump from a personal project back to the team project to the personal projects and so on. For the team project the Sprint lead will change each time.

So…yea! We’ll see how this changes things. Hopefully it will be a productive and rewarding spring.

That’s it for me,


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Ready for Winter Break, Ready for Next Semester!

The semester has finally come to an end, marking the midway milestone for the program experience in Houston. It has been a long semester with ups and downs, challenges, achievements and learning experiences that I may not have time to fully reflect on over winter break.

In the last few days when preparing for our final presentations I was almost to the burnout point where all I could think about was getting some rest during the break. However, as we presented our project review, I realized how excited I am for what is yet to come in our next and final semester. Not only that, we have now selected the need we want to go ahead with and so far it is strongly related to our findings in Costa Rica. This served as a refreshment of why I wanted to be part of the GMI cohort to begin with: coming up with innovative solutions that will help the people in my country and around the globe. Knowing that we will continue to work towards that goal as a team refueled my desire to learn and contribute to this cause (although I might need a few days off at least!).

I will be going back home for the break, spending time with my family and friends but also setting aside a few days where I may look deeper into our findings and see what information I can gather so we can retake our  task in the Spring with enthusiasm and effectiveness as a team. I am planning on going to Liberia, where our original need comes from, despite it being a few hours drive from where I live. Luckily the Guanacaste region is a good enough tourist destination that I can use that trip as an excuse to visit the marvelous beaches we have down there. If I get the opportunity to meet with my sponsor before the end of year holidays I might try to sneak that into my schedule as well. My key takeaway from this experience relies on the fact that GMI is indeed a highly demanding program that will bring you to your limits, but it is through this experience that we can learn most about ourselves and our passions in Bioengineering. I personally hope I can also set up a few prospective student presentations in Costa Rica to share my experience so far, as this is encouraged by both the Office of International Students and Scholars through their REAP program, as well as the Office of Graduate Studies through their Ambassadors program.

On a final note as I am writing this on my flight to Costa Rica, any prospective student that is getting ready to submit their application for GMI should know that this program requires a fair amount of effort, but all of it is worth it. My body is tired from a long semester, and out of caution and common-sense I will override my workaholic nature and get some rest. With a few weeks rest I will be more than ready to bring on the final stretch which I’m sure will fly by in the blink of an eye.

The way this program is handled, no matter how tired you maybe you will always want to keep going until you achieve your own goals, both personal and academic alike. GMI is not only about learning, it is about creating, sharing and inspiring as well.

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