Catherine Rose, a pediatric innovator from the Boston area, received the Rising Star Award at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Innovation Summit last week. The award was based on her outstanding work in creating a product for children with visual impairments.
The inspiration for this innovative product came straight from Rose’s heart. In February 2006, Rose’s daughter, Alexis, was born with a variety of challenges. Today, Alexis wears hearing aids and glasses and sleeps at night with a CPAP (continuous positive air pressure machine). Rose describes Alexis’s general state as “maintenance mode”.
Alexis is visually impaired and deaf, with a complicated medical history that drove Rose to seek solutions for her daughter in the first place. As a female engineer at Philips Lighting, Rose says that she constantly asks “Why?” and sees challenges as opportunities for creative, unexpected solutions. She remembers that her daughter’s doctors were stumped about Alexis’s diagnosis, so she aggregated her daughter’s blood work data from three hospitals, researched via Google and then emailed a Chief Nephrologist, saying, “Alexis has Pseudohypoaldosteronism Type II, who can help confirm my diagnosis and treat her?”
This curiosity and drive also led to Rose’s newest award-winning innovation. In 2009, she began thinking about the way light is used in areas like surgery. Her company, Philips, makes kinetic lights – the same ones that are on the top of the Empire State Building. These are also the same lights that allow for better visualization during surgery and Rose wondered if those lights might help visually impaired children, too. “The use of really bright lights through activities that are motivating for kids helps with their eye tracking,” she says. “When they realize that they are controlling the lights and their body is creating the lights it’s a really rewarding moment.”
Now, Philips Lighting is producing Rose’s product, the LightAide, in an effort to improve the interactions that visually impaired children can have with the world around them.The product looks like a Lite Brite – something you may have played with at a young age – but it has much brighter lights and no movable pieces. Instead, users interact with the low-resolution screen through an adaptive switch. Each mode of light can be any color the user wants and instead of using a peg, you use the light itself to create brightness.
Rose hopes that the device will help children like her daughter reach their full potential and learn new skills so they can further challenge themselves. Success stories include one girl so has used the LightAide to give her confidence in tackling new challenges with her studies. In the future, Rose hopes to continue working to integrate light therapies into the patient experience. Appropriate light is critical for a good night’s rest, to help people recharge the body and to fight or heal, she says.
“It still feels kind of crazy to me that I was the winner, especially since it’s the first year they gave the award,” Rose says of the Rising Star award she received at a lunch-time ceremony last week. “I was just someone trying to make the world a better place for my child, and to get acknowledged for that validates what parents are doing every day.”
Soniya Shah is an on-staff contributing writer at MedTech Boston. She's a senior at Carnegie Mellon University pursuing a BS in technical writing. She has experience as a ghost writer and medical writer, and in developing software documentation.
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