Y-Prize Winners Help Cambodian Infants

PROVO, Utah – Jan 24, 2017 – After nearly a year of competition, judges declared Team Cambodia the winner of the Ballard Center’s Y-Prize Newborn Challenge, awarding $50,000 to a team of BYU students who presented the strongest business plan to improve and market a BYU-engineered, low-cost infant ventilator for hospitals in developing countries.

“We’re so passionate about this project and to get some validation from a team of judges that sees the value that we offer is very motivating and we feel very humbled by this opportunity,” says Kindall Palmer, an economics major and Team Cambodia member.

While participants from three separate teams were all driven by a desire to save young lives and help parents around the world, Kindall and his wife Erica were also driven by a deep personal connection to working with infant ventilators.

When the competition began in December, Erica was pregnant with the couple’s first child. Although the delivery went smoothly, the baby suddenly turned blue from lack of oxygen the day after birth.

As doctors frantically worked to diagnose his symptoms, the Palmers watched as their son became dependent on a ventilator, the very machine they were working to distribute. Eventually, the medical staff detected that the baby had a very serious heart defect and months of treatment were required until their boy was healthy again.

“I remember looking at him and thinking, we have to do this,” Kindall says. “It was almost a sign to us from God that this is real. This isn’t just a school project. These are people’s lives, not just the parents, but also the young child and the potential he has in front of him. Lost potential is like a candle being blown out because they don’t have a simple $400 machine.”

Palmer and his wife Erica are the nucleus of Team Cambodia and were joined in the competition by fellow BYU students Stetler Epley, Rob Brown, Ryan Moffet, and Pierce Bennett.

The competition began with teams conducting research to recognize and establish evidence of the need for the respirator device. Team Cambodia’s research indicated that of the 386,451 annual births in Cambodia, nearly 6,000 infant deaths could be prevented by the proper use of a ventilator.

“I think the thing that tipped the scale was who was more likely to get it done,” says judge Steve Leininger. “All the teams had good plans, but it was more about which team we felt confident could achieve the task.”

As the team evaluated ways to distribute the device, they worked to form relationships with others who were willing to lend a hand. One such partner was Dr. Stephen Minton, a neonatologist at Utah Valley Hospital who brought a qualified understanding of the medical industry and the training required to ensure that hospital staff would use the ventilator correctly.

Together, Team Cambodia and Dr. Minton traveled to Cambodia over the summer to form partnerships with government officials, hospital administrators, doctors, and mothers themselves.

“It was nothing like what we expected. When we arrived we were greeted by the financial minister who took us around for two weeks to tour hospitals,” Bennett says. “We realized that there really are newborns who need our assistance and, for the price of a smartphone, we could provide a lifesaving device for them.”

With the additional funding, the team plans to finish product testing and place the ventilator within Cambodian hospitals by the end of 2017. To support Team Cambodia or to learn more about their efforts, visit their website at neonatalrescue.org. 

Team Cambodia won the Ballard Center’s Y-Prize Newborn Challenge and $50,000 for their business plan to improve and market an infant ventilator for hospitals in developing countries.
Dr. Stephen Minton, director of the Utah Valley Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit, introduces the NeoLife ventilator to a group of doctors and nurses in Cambodia
A woman watches a newborn baby at a Cambodian health care facility. Newborns have very limited access to healthcare in Cambodia, and the implementation of a ventilator device projects to save thousands of lives.

Media Contact: Alicia Gettys (801) 422-9009
Writer: Andrew Cook