December 7, 2016 |

Breathing for beginners

Why I’m so passionate about adapting high-tech interventions to save babies’ lives.
Mark Murray and his son, Rees.
Here I am with my healthy, active, mischievous 8-year-old son, Rees. Photo: Heidi Michelle.

I spent my first weeks as a father listening to the hums and beeps of the machines keeping my son alive.

Rees was born nine weeks early, before his lungs were ready to support his body. My wife, Melinda, and I were head-over-heels in love with him and spent countless hours holding him, hoping he would get a little stronger every day. I found the background noise of hums and beeps strangely comforting, a steady reminder that my son was getting the world’s most advanced medical treatment.

But even as we waited in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), Melinda and I were aware that nurseries for sick newborns in other parts of the world function without reliable electricity, much less the latest technology. In these places, premature babies face terrible odds: every year, a staggering 3 million newborns die during their first 30 days of life—that’s one baby every 10 seconds.

At PATH, we’re committed to changing that.

A future for every baby

It’s not fair that whether babies live or die depends on where they happen to be born. And it’s just wrong that parents still lose their newborns—and all the love and hope and potential that goes with them—to causes that are absolutely preventable and treatable.

That’s why I’m so passionate about working at PATH, where smart, dedicated, creative people are working toward an audacious goal: a world where every woman, child, and baby has an equal chance for a healthy life.

PATH is committed to accelerating innovations that save vulnerable babies’ lives. That includes tailoring technologies—like ones that saved my son—for use in low-resource settings.

Safe, affordable, appropriate

When he was in the NICU, Rees was tethered to life by a flexible tube that gently blew a mixture of oxygen and air through his nose and into his lungs. This therapy, called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), supported him until his lungs were mature enough for him to breathe on his own. As his lungs grew stronger, his doctors weaned him from the CPAP breathing support.

Mark Murray's son, Rees, in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Rees spent the first two months of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit. This mask is part of the continuous positive airway pressure device that saved his life. Photo: Mark Murray.

CPAP machines typically cost thousands of dollars. They need compressed oxygen and air, a constant supply of electricity, and they require expensive replacement parts—which make them impractical for low-resource settings.

But PATH is working with partners to develop a “bubble CPAP kit” that doesn’t need electricity and costs a fraction of the price.

Our bubble CPAP kit was inspired by systems cobbled together by resourceful health care providers in India, Africa, and elsewhere, using tubes, tape, and plastic bottles. These improvised devices save lives, but they deliver pure oxygen to babies’ lungs, which can cause blindness and brain damage.

PATH’s version overcomes these problems by adding a simple but ingenious air blender, a one-piece plastic component that is specially designed to draw room air into babies’ lungs, along with oxygen. We created the blender in our on-site product development shop, making prototypes on a 3D printer.

PATH's bubble continuous positive airway pressure kit is modeled on a doll.
PATH’s bubble continuous positive airway pressure kit includes a water bottle and stand, plastic tubing, and a few other components, including a novel air blender (it’s the long plastic piece on the tube in the center of this photo), which we developed using a 3D printer. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

Then we fine-tuned its design with input from doctors, nurses, and others in countries where the kit will be used.

We know these frontline caregivers want it. The next step is clinical trials—which are expensive.

Give in honor of someone you love

That’s why we need you. You can help get our bubble CPAP kit—and dozens of other technologies—into the hands of people who need them. When you make a gift to PATH, you fuel creativity and collaboration that make life healthier for women and children on a global scale.

My personal dream is to see this lifesaving technology become widely accessible as soon as possible, to help save the lives of babies around the world.

That’s why in addition to being a PATH employee, I’m also a donor.

Melinda and I are donating to PATH in honor of Rees, who’s now a healthy, active, and voraciously curious 8-year-old. When we do, we’ll also be thinking of parents, whose children deserve the same chance for a healthy life.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting PATH.

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  • Mark Murray is vice president for Global Engagement and Communications at PATH.