This Black History Month, MakerHealth has highlighted in appreciation the innovations and brilliance with which Black Americans have shaped our communities. MakerHealth’s mission is to identify and support health care providers around the world who make things that heal. Thank you to all Black health makers who have creatively transformed health care with new health technology over the years and made history with widespread impact.
Tackling shocks to the system
When crisis situations around them made it difficult to provide health care safely, these health makers were quick and effective to brainstorm and fabricate health care innovations and save lives.
Dr. Charles Drew (b. 1904) was an American surgeon and served as the medical director of the U.S.’s Blood for Britain project during World War II. He improved techniques for blood storage and developed large-scale blood banks that saved thousands of lives. During this time he started bloodmobiles by dispatching trucks with refrigerators of stored blood, improving transportation of blood and increasing blood donations. https://ehrdata.com/10-black-pioneers-in-healthcare-technology/
Dr. Tommye Austin, University Health’s Chief Nurse Executive and a Senior Vice President, moved to action in April 2020 after her frontline teams lacked access to N95 masks. She designed and created the TM2020 mask using surgical draping and an AC filter that produces a 97.5% filtration efficiency compared to most N95 masks’ 95 percent filtration efficiency. She and her team made over 6,000 masks for frontline health workers and community members. In an interview with Johnson & Johnson, Dr. Austin said, “I think it’s important to create pathways for innovation because nurses shouldn’t feel like they need to leave nursing to be innovative.” Thank you, Dr. Austin! https://nursing.jnj.com/nursing-news-events/nurses-leading-innovation/mask-inventor-innovation-leader-meet-nurse-executive-tommye-austin
Restoring patient independence
Bessie Blount Griffin (b. 1914). Griffin was a trained physical therapist and nurse who worked with veterans coming back from World War II. Many of these patients were amputees or had lost a limb. She restored patient independence with her health device that consisted of a tube attached to a bowl, which connected to a brace attached to the patient’s neck and allowed them to eat without assistance. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/african-american-inventors-20th-and-21st-century/
Bringing to life new minimally-invasive approaches
These clinicians led some of the most important technological interventions in their respective fields. Among many other accomplishments, what these clinicians created effectively expanded the ability to improve people’s lives through minimally-invasive approaches.
First, Dr. Leonidas Berry (b. 1902) was a health maker who specialized in gastroenterology and retired in 1975 as chief endoscopy in Chicago, IL. In 1955, he invented the Eder-Berry biopsy gastroscope. It was the first version of the gastroscope that operated via suction and offered good visualization while taking tissue samples from the stomach without surgery. https://circulatingnow.nlm.nih.gov/2018/07/19/inventor-mentor-dr-leonidas-h-berry-and-the-gastroscope/
Next, Dr. Patricia Bath (b. 1942), an ophthalmologist and health maker, spent five years researching and testing her device before obtaining a patent in 1986 for what is known as the Laserphaco Probe. Her pioneering expertise in laser technology led to this invention that vaporizes cataracts before replacing a patient’s lens, making for a much faster and safer procedure to prevent blindness. https://lemelson.mit.edu/resources/patricia-bath
Setting higher standards in health care
Dr. Samuel Kountz (b. 1930) kidney transplantation surgeon and health maker helped develop the prototype for the Belzer kidney perfusion machine–and is now standard equipment in hospitals and research labs. It preserves kidneys for up to 50 hours after being taken from a donor’s body. https://blogs.library.ucsf.edu/broughttolight/2017/02/06/samuel-kountz-pioneering-kidney-transplant-surgeon/
Taofiki Gafar-Schaner, MSN, RN, is a health maker and an advocate for bridging the gap between technology and patient care, where health care providers can take the lead. With his colleague Joey Ferry, BSN, RN, they applied their expertise at the patient bedside to invent SafeSeizure pads. Because there are no universal standards for when a patient is placed on “seizure precautions,” they decided to raise hospital standards with this compact, self-inflating seizure pad. https://www.safeseizure.com/safeseizure-standard