Student-Led MedWish Team Refurbishes Pulse Oximeters for Use in Ghana


On Feb. 2, 2019, the student organization Case Western Reserve University MedWish delivered four pulse oximeters to a clinician from Nadowli District Hospital, who took the much-needed devices more than 5,300 miles away to an agricultural community in northwest Ghana. Transfer of the pulse oximeters, which measure oxygen saturation of the blood, was the culmination of a months-long project to refurbish the medical devices.

CWRU MedWish is a student arm of MedWish International, a not-for-profit organization that repurposes discarded medical supplies and equipment to provide humanitarian aid in developing countries. “Many lower-to-middle income countries do not have access to basic medical supplies and critical devices,” says Leandra Bowsman, an undergraduate student at Case Western Reserve University double majoring in biomedical and mechanical engineering and the packaging and logistics coordinator of CWRU MedWish. “Our job is to triage incoming donated devices. After we determine which devices are worth pursuing, we test each device, document and package them for MedWish to send to countries that have requested critical devices, such as pulse oximeters.”

Refurbishment of the pulse oximeters involved adding an on/off switch so the battery won’t drain when the system is turned off. Pulse oximeters are designed to be plugged in all of the time, but this won’t be the case at Nadowli District Hospital, so the modification was necessary. CWRU MedWish students handled the switch installation and rewiring of the device under the guidance of Colin Drummond, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and Alex Massiello, a retired senior principal research engineer from Cleveland Clinic. “Alex has been a great resource for mentoring students and explaining the way equipment works,” says Drummond.

Now that the pulse oximeter project has ended, students are testing and repairing electrocardiogram machines and neonatal incubators for donation. In 2017, MedWish sent 140 shipments of life-saving medical supplies and equipment around the world. The organization was founded in 1993 by Lee Ponsky, MD, chief of the Division of Urologic Oncology at University Hospitals and a graduate of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

Current Case Western Reserve students are excited at the opportunity to contribute to a philanthropic organization founded by one of the school’s alumnus. “MedWish has given me hands-on experience working with medical devices,” says Bowsman. “I am able to see the applicability and real-life context of some of these devices, which we discuss in class. Furthermore, working with these devices has made me realize some potential areas for design improvement and has elicited an interest in product design and life cycle.


Members of CWRU MedWish, from left: Jennifer Buck, Leandra Bowsman, Jonathan Chen and Shyam Polaconda.