Demystifying congenital heart disease through product design

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Congenital heart disease (CHD) is a physical heart defect that begins in the womb, affecting approximately 40,000 children born in the United States each year. Seeking to improve the education of diagnosed children and their families, Amr El-Bokl and Gurumurthy Hiremath of U of M Medical School have partnered with the College of Design’s Product Design Program. There, they collaborated with undergraduate student Levi Skelton and assistant professor Carlye Lauff to create a product to teach children about coronary heart disease.

Ranging from mild to severe cases, coronary artery disease can manifest in many different ways, from valve complications to an upside-down heart. These variations make the disease particularly difficult to understand and manage for children and their parents, especially as patients with coronary artery disease age and become more independent.

“There is a tendency to try to protect children from information,” says El-Bokl. “It continues as they get older, and then all of a sudden they go off to college or start their first job and have only a vague idea of ​​their heart condition. A slow, early introduction is one of the best ways to learn about medical information, but we don’t have many kid-friendly tools.

To help bridge this gap, El-Bokl and Skelton embarked on the design process to create a better educational tool for children and their parents.

With no prior experience working with medical professionals or any previous knowledge of CHD, Skelton dove headfirst into the project.

“I started by researching what coronary artery disease is, how it can manifest, be managed and sometimes corrected. Dr. El-Bokl was both my client and my mentor. While teaching me CHD, he also told me what he wanted from the product,” says Skelton.

Part of the learning and design process included an immersive two-day volunteer experience at Camp Odayin, a residential summer camp for children with heart conditions.

“My favorite thing was seeing that these kids really aren’t that different from the others,” Skelton says. “I had been researching coronary heart disease for a month and had seen kids at the clinic, but after learning about the heart issues these kids had, it was really cool to see them running around and having a great time. any other child.”

After conducting his research and speaking with a child life specialist, Skelton decided that a pet toy would be the most effective way to achieve the project’s goals.

“Having children role-play a doctor/patient interaction with themselves and a toy has been proven to help children feel more comfortable as a patient during a visit to the doctor” , says Skelton. “Once I decided to make a toy, I researched animals with unique hearts and chose the octopus because it has three.”

The plush octopus, named Octo, is designed with a removable 3D printed heart. It also comes with an accompanying digital app for kids to administer health checkups and learn about cardiovascular functions.

Reflecting on the final prototype and its potential, Skelton sees a bright future for continued collaboration between the medical and design fields. “I think designers have a lot to contribute to the medical field, especially for children,” says Skelton.

This story was adapted from the College of Design.

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