What began as a BYU engineering project eight years ago has turned into vital support equipment for battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AdultLife Ventilator was designed by BYU alums and husband-and-wife team Kindall and Erica Palmer, along with current and former BYU students. The first version of the ventilator was created for infants in developing countries but has been adapted for adult use. The AdultLife Ventilator has just received FDA emergency authorization for use in hospitals during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We harnessed expertise from engineering and medical experts to know exactly how the device needs to function and how you would train users,” Kindall Palmer said. “Ventilation is the core treatment for COVID-19, but there’s a severe lack of ventilators, not just in the United States, but throughout the world. We hope to be part of the solution.”
When news started surfacing about a projected ventilator shortage around the world due to COVID-19, Erica Palmer said someone on their team mentioned the idea of making an adult ventilator.
“In late March we watched Italy go through the worst of the pandemic and things started getting bad in New York,” she said. “The Food and Drug Administration issued their Emergency Use Authorization program that would grant approval to devices on a much quicker time frame than usual. This was our door of opportunity and we realized if we were going to help it had to be done as soon as possible as the need was immediate.”
With some adjustments to the pressure and internal pump systems, as well as finding a larger capacity battery, the group began its conversion to an adult version of the device the third week of March and submitted its project to the FDA on April 6. After feedback from the FDA, changes and updates were made to the prototype. The FDA granted Emergency Use Authorization on June 17.
The BYU alums can make their ventilator for a fraction of current market prices, which range from $10,000 to $50,000. The ventilator is compact, lightweight and durable. It features a built-in air pump so the unit can be used outside of a hospital and is battery operated. The turnaround time in building the device is much shorter than standard ventilators and the organization will eventually be able to produce 5,000 ventilators per month.
“We never could have expected producing something like this when we started NeoNatal Rescue while at BYU,” Eric Palmer said. “I mean, who ever imagines that they’ll live through a worldwide pandemic in the first place? Our project had always been focused on newborns in developing countries. But opportunities have a funny way of leading you down different paths as you follow them, and we are grateful and excited that we found ourselves in a place where we could do something to make an impact during this pandemic. “
Originally the project started with BYU Engineering Capstone eight years ago to create a rudimentary neonatal ventilator. The goal was to distribute the ventilators to developing economies at a very low cost.
NeoNatal Rescue, the organization the Palmers started while at BYU, created multiple versions of the neonatal device and tested them in Cambodia and Uganda. Their humanitarian work around the world has impacted and improved many lives. Now their ventilators are not only saving babies, but they are saving individuals of all ages.
“I’m so grateful that we have learned everything we’ve learned to be able to put us in a position today to respond to COVID-19,” Erica Palmer said.
NeoNatal Rescue is already working with the World Health Organization, the Department of Defense, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and various hospital chains. The team is working with ATL Technology, a medical manufacturing firm in Springville, to produce the ventilators. They worked with local respiratory therapists and doctors to achieve compliance with FDA standards.
Erica Palmer said the project was a little intimidating at first but the results have been very satisfying.
“We started seeing stories of how big minds like Ford, GE and Elon Musk were all working on solutions as well, and there were many times that I thought, ‘Who are we to think that we are capable of doing something that even these big companies are struggling to accomplish?’
“But we had the right background, we had the supply chain and experience with FDA submissions, and we had a great concept of a ventilator with an internal battery and pump that was uniquely suited to respond to the emergency conditions surrounding COVID-19. So we just kept at it and did what we needed to do and made it happen. It’s definitely been a huge task, and I’m so proud of the incredible work our team has put in to making it happen and the persistence and endurance everyone has shown.”