It was my first day working at my local Red Cross hospital as a doctor shadow. As a teenager who dreamed of being the first female doctor in my family, I arrived promptly on time. Dr.Bailey was just about to start his rounds, and he opened the patient’s door a tiny fraction – just enough so that the silhouette of a young woman was visible. She was crouched over a chair, wheezing so loudly that it was audible from the hallway. She tried to steady her breathing with one deep breath of air, but she collapsed.
Dr. Bailey rushed inside the room. “What happened?” I asked tensely.
“She has emphysema,” he replied while he hooked the patient to an oxygen tank.
“What is emphysema?” I inquired. “I thought it was only for old people.”
“Emphysema is a severe form of COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, a condition that makes breathing difficult. Lungs branch out into smaller airways with tiny, grape-like air sacs called alveoli at their ends. When a healthy person breathes, the normally stretchy, elastic alveoli expand and contract; in emphysema, however, the alveoli fill with excess air, which gradually builds up, causing the alveoli to expand until they break. Now, they are no longer tiny elastic sacs, but floppy pockets with exterior holes. The fibers that hold open the airways to the alveoli are almost completely destroyed, and the lungs expand dangerously, making exhaling a close-to-impossible task without professional help.”
“What treatments are available?” I asked.
“If you believe that this condition can be reversed,” the doctor began, sensing my thoughts, “it’s impossible.”
I gasped. “So patients just die?”
To my surprise, the doctor smiled. “When new diseases emerge, engineers create new inventions. For a disease like emphysema, which accounts for 5.8% of deaths worldwide, engineers must create a revolutionary breakthrough in technology that can solve the problem. There have been several attempts to cure emphysema, but none are as promising as Uptake Medical’s InterVapor system.”
“W-wait a minute. You said engineers? I thought only doctors saved patients. Engineers just…build and hammer and all that stuff.”
“While doctors play a large role in saving a patient, engineers actually make the equipment. Biomedical engineers are the pioneers who bridge the gap between engineering and medicine. They put both spatial and logical reasoning sense of engineering and medical knowledge to use in achieving breakthroughs. In this revolutionary breakthrough in restoring a patient’s lungs, biomedical, chemical, and systems engineers were very crucial. They incorporate mathematics and statistics to build pulmonary models and create software to manage medical devices.
This developing technology is the first endoscopic lung volume reduction system that uses the body's natural healing processes without leaving foreign materials behind. It was designed by a team of expert engineers and physicians to create a user-friendly and effective treatment option. This system consists of three parts: IP3, generator, and catheter. The IP3 identifies specific areas of the lungs that are damaged. A bronchoscope is inserted into the target airways, and the catheter is secured on top of it. Then, the generator produces doses of steam that scalds the tissue.”
“But doesn't that make it worse?” I pried.
“Yes. Scalding the tissue does make the lungs worse, but that is its purpose: to damage the lungs enough so that a natural healing process is triggered from inside the patient’s body. Over the next few weeks, scar tissue is created, which occupies more space inside the lungs reducing its overall capacity and making breathing easier.”
“Isn't surgery effective?”
“A surgery is riskier and can require a two-week stay in the hospital with additional pulmonary rehabilitation which begins about five weeks after surgery. The InterVapor system, however, is a procedure that only takes thirty minutes. When an engineer creates a product, he strives to balance efficiency, cost effectiveness, and visual appeal. Aesthetic appeal is not a pivotal factor in treating patients. According to studies from the Department of Pulmonary Medicine, the procedure shows 83% improvement when “looking at several end points.” Compared to many surgical processes, the InterVapor system is a less expensive option, both for the manufacturer and for the customer.”
“How reliable is it?”
“There might be some problems, but none which a team of engineers won’t be able to solve. After all, an engineer is skilled in different aspects of design and construction.”
I nodded and watched Dr. Bailey as he measured the patient’s blood pressure and conducted other tests. I left the doctor’s office with a newfound passion for engineering.
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