University of Central Florida Medical Student Honored for Work in Developing Makeshift Ventilators

Lily Chen, a third-year medical student at the University of Central Florida, was awarded the Excellence in Public Health Service Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service for using her bioengineering expertise to create makeshift ventilators for COVID-19 patients.

When the pandemic struck early in 2020, Chen joined the Bridge Ventilator Consortium started by the University of California-Irvine to design and build supplemental ventilators to deal with a worldwide shortage. Chen, whose undergraduate degree from the California Institute of Technology is in bioengineering, had held a research position at the university and joined the multinational working group that included physicians, biomedical and mechanical engineers, respiratory therapists, business consultants and manufacturers including Virgin Orbit, who was able to secure an emergency use authorization from the Food And Drug Administration in April 2020.

The team created a “bridge” ventilator, a mechanical version of human-operated bag valve masks often used in ambulances and by paramedics at the scene when patients cannot breathe. The ventilators were designed as an inexpensive, quick-to-manufacture device to supplement standard ventilators when hospitals become overwhelmed. Chen was a consultant who participated in providing and receiving real-time feedback on designs and logistics.

“These devices are meant to be accessible and reproducible in most circumstances, especially in resource limited areas,” Chen says. “They are not meant to replace ventilators, but they may help in maintaining availability of intensive care capable ventilators for the most critically ill patients and expand care capacity, especially during surges.”

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