(Photo courtesy of Health for America)
Northwestern University. Cornell University. Stanford University. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Indiana University.
No, this isn’t the Jeopardy College Championship.
These are the colleges where four young people from across the country — who didn’t know each other until last year — recently received their degrees. But now, Nick Azpiroz, Megan Caldwell, Sandra Hwang and Ellen Kourakos have something in common: They’re serving as Health for America fellows, working to find a solution and improve the lives of people living with congestive heart failure.
"We're four individuals from different disciplines willing to take risks and improve the lives of people with chronic heart disease."
Founded in 2012 (and taking a page from the playbooks of Teach for America, Venture for America and Code for America), Health for America leverages entrepreneurship to solve some of the country’s toughest healthcare challenges. The fellowship program connects recent grads with healthcare leaders, tech companies and medical providers to fight chronic diseases.
In September, the program received funding for a year from Start It Up Delaware’s Social Impact Fund. The local team is working from The Loft coworking space in Wilmington and is partnered with a local hospital.
“Our major clinical partner is Christiana Care, so we’re focused on a solution that will impact Delawareans,” said Caldwell, a 2012 graduate of Indiana U. “We’ve done some expansion outside of Delaware, so hopefully we can impact people across the country.”
The four team members have varied backgrounds. Azpiroz is interested in technology and engineering, and hopes to design a solution in the form of a product or app; Kourakos is also tech and engineering-focused; Caldwell’s past experience has been in healthcare consulting; Hwang’s focus is on public health policy.
Caldwell said she believes the myriad of talents on the team will lead to innovative solutions.
“Senior doctors and those running hospitals don’t have time to innovate, there are risky issues,” she said. “We’re four individuals from different disciplines willing to take risks and improve the lives of people with chronic heart disease.”
The team is looking specifically at creating an app or platform that helps patients with early detection of sudden weight gain, which, in those with chronic heart disease, is often linked to dangerous fluid build up.
“A lot of people don’t detect it early and it compresses their lungs,” Caldwell said. “It’s one area we want to focus on with an app to help detect it earlier.”
"We've received support from a lot of people in Delaware. They're encouraging our ideas. I don't think we'd have that in any other location."
Kourakos said the team also wants to use technology to integrate patients with caregivers and American Heart Association standards. The team has met with patients and healthcare leaders locally, which has been helpful, she added.
“It’s been incredible to work with Christiana so closely,” Kourakos said. “We get to talk to patients and do these simulations and get into the heads of the people we’re designing for.”
Funding for the project ends in July, Caldwell said, when a new class of fellows will enter the program.
At the end of the program, the team can choose to turn its findings into a project or business, or pitch the idea to the incoming group of entrepreneurs.
“The fact that the end version of this will hopefully be a business and has only come to fruition because of help from Delaware and the fund itself — Delaware had the foresight to do this — makes the fellowship and Delaware unique,” Caldwell said.
Kourakos added that Delaware’s supportive healthcare climate has been a motivating factor in moving the team forward.
“I’ve heard it time and time again: Delaware is focused on becoming a health-oriented state,” she said. “The governor has expressed he’s interested in testing pilot programs. We’ve received support from a lot of people in Delaware. They’re encouraging our ideas. I don’t think we’d have that in any other location.”-30-
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