In just one six-month period in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2006, 96 newborn babies who were in need of medical care died before they could get help. In many developing nations, these deaths can be prevented simply by providing better ways for medical responders to transport infants properly over rough terrain and keep them alive until they can reach hospitals and clinics. Now, a group of Colorado State University seniors have designed and filed a patent for a medically equipped incubator backpack unit that they believe can reduce baby deaths in medical emergencies both in the United States and in newly industrialized nations.

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“In Third World countries, a lot of births happen at home,” said Phil Brox, a senior mechanical engineering student who worked on the project. “In some countries, if they have to save a life, they hike in and carry the baby in their hands or use a sling approach. The sad reality is that often the baby dies.”

Brox, along with Jeff Belval, Brett Raver and Casey Dean, spent the last year working on the project with the help of professor Sue James. Called a neonatal transport incubator, the purpose of the device is to assist medical responders in moving babies safely from their homes to medical facilities, especially in areas where there might be rough terrain or inadequate road systems. Currently, there are other neonatal transport devices on the market, but the students’ innovative new backpack design is cheaper and more portable. It also incorporates a suspension system that absorbs shock to protect infants during travel.

We have to say that being carried skin to skin by a warm human body in a baby-carrier (aka ‘kangaroo care’) actually sounds a lot more humane, safe and baby-friendly for a newborn than being carried strapped to a board in a giant plastic box, but we can see how there are definitely situations that probably merit this type of crazy incubator backpack device.  But, we have to ask: wouldn’t a low-tech solution of using a cloth baby-carrier on a compassionate person often be better, safer, cheaper and easier than this ginormous contraption?  It’s been scientifically shown that the best way to regulate the breathing and heartbeat of a newborn infant is to have that infant snuggle up, chest-to-chest, skin-to-skin with his mom or dad right after birth.

Of the other comfort and safety features of the incubator, Belval explains, “We want the device to be portable but include all the current standards for newborn transportation systems – an electric heating system, air circulation, an air controller, various alarms that monitor the baby’s temperature, etc. Those are features currently included in other products on the market.”

+ Colorado State University