GMI Student Perspectives | Matthew De Venecia: Costa Rica!

Reflections from Global Medical Innovation MBE students.

From left: De Venecia, Kelvin Boateng, Paula Ayala, Diego Gonzalez

Hello, welcome back to my blog! It’s the start of my fifth week here in Brazil, and I’ve gotten quite accustomed to living here. When I first arrived at Hospital de Amor, I was struck by just how different reality was from my expectations. Many free public hospitals in Brazil are ill-equipped or understaffed, but Hospital de Amor can definitely compete with even the more advanced hospitals in the world. Not only that, but the dedication that the staff has to the community here is astounding. For example, a few of the biggest complaints that patients have about getting a mammogram is that some think that the procedure will give them cancer in addition to the fact that people don’t like the feeling of visiting a hospital in general. Hospital de Amor really takes care of tackling the root cause of these problems by doing things like creating educational pamphlets, or emulating spa settings to make the mammogram rooms more comfortable. Another facility that really stood out to me was the children’s hospital. Contrary to what you might expect, the first thing you notice when walking into the children’s hospital is just how lively it is: bright colors are everywhere, kids are running around in the playroom, a jovial staff worker cracks jokes that instill laughter into any of the children listening to him. Of course, it becomes much more heartbreaking when you leave the waiting room and enter into the inner facilities. The kids there are nervous, scared, and some are bed-ridden or in pain. The parents look stressed and tired as well. The doctors there seem undaunted, however, as they call their patients by name, give them a hug, or tell them that it is going to be ok. They definitely know just how important it is to give a child a reason to feel safe, and they’re doing a fantastic job. Needless to say, the level of dedication to patient care here is truly remarkable.

After the general tours were finished during that first week, I had a fantastic week of experiencing Brazilian culture. By that, I mean that I had a four-day weekend thanks to Corpus Christi: a Catholic holiday celebrating the establishment of the Eucharist. Following that week was when I really started to get to work. I’ve visited the palliative care, mobile units, primary care, and equestrian therapy departments (yes, horse therapy is a thing) during my time here. However, most of my attention is focused on 4 main projects:

  • A device to ensure preservation of biopsy samples during transport
  • A device to help children remain stationary during radiotherapy
  • A device to automatically create radiotracers for nuclear medicine scans
  • A device that lets surgeons have hands free control of non-sterile equipment

I took a few weeks to conduct proper research into the the root causes that these devices would address. In order to do this, I used the mind mapping method that was taught during the GMI boot camp (which seems like an eternity ago). The doctors here, are very kind and they seemed to treat me almost as they would a resident. Currently, I’ve analyzed the three main departments that I’m working with, and I’m excited to begin creating solutions to these complex problems. In the next month, I’ll be working with a team of medical students where I’ll be functioning as the head engineer on these projects while they act as my consultants for their respective specialties. We’ll essentially be a small engineering company, and I’m extremely excited to work with them! Our plan is to follow the FDA waterfall method, create>verify> repeat, in order to get the best results during my time here.

In addition to bioengineering work, I’ve really been enjoying my time in Brazil! Some highlights: I’ve gone to a churrascurria (a.k.a. a Brazilian steakhouse), and let me just say that the meat there could easily put Texas steaks to shame. Trust me, I’ve had a whole 1.5 days of being a Texan. Also, I went to Capitolio, a beautiful spot in the state of Minas Gerais, where I swam in some refreshing lakes and rivers. Lastly, thanks to some connections in high places, I got to present awards at a mule rodeo! Do know how much mules can sweat? Because I do now. Adventuring out to these places was fun and easy thanks to the help of my reliable bilingual friends (Diego, Paula, Edson, I appreciate you). I couldn’t end this without giving them a shout out, but that’s all I have for now! Thanks for reading, and until next time. Tchau!

Matthew De Venecia, 2019-20 Cohort, MBE in Global Medical Innovation