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Provided by the Ballard Center
Stetler Epply, Rob Brown, Kindall Palmer, Erica Palmer, and Pierce Bennet of Neonatal Rescue pose with a giant check after winning BYU's Y-Prize Newborn Challenge on Dec. 2, 2016.

What started out as a school challenge to find a way to distribute low-cost ventilators for newborns to a developing country became personal for a couple when their young son needed one.

Brigham Young University graduates Erica and Kindall Palmer recently received a grant through the Ballard Center's Y-Prize Newborn Challenge for their plan to place the ventilators in Cambodia.

The Y-Prize Challenge, which is sponsored by Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Business, selects different causes each year to help those in poverty in developing countries and then encourages students to develop a plan of how to get low-cost technology where it's needed.

This year, one of the challenges was to create a business plan of how to get low-cost respirator machines for newborns into a developing community.

“We had gone there once for vacation, and we just loved it,” Erica Palmer said about Cambodia in an interview with the Deseret News. “The people there are so nice.”

With the help of fellow students on their team, the Palmers went through multiple stages of developing and presenting their plan to a panel of judges. The final pitch of the competition was on Dec. 2, after which the Palmers’ team learned that they had won the contest and a $50,000 grant.

Just after completing their first pitch of the competition, the Palmers had their first baby, a boy named Erickson.

“Everything was fine the day he was born,” Erica Palmer said. “But the second day, he suddenly turned blue. He was rushed to the NICU and put on a ventilator.”

After running some tests, doctors found that Erickson had a heart condition that would ultimately keep the baby in the hospital for weeks as he underwent multiple surgeries. The Palmers say they were keenly aware of the role that the ventilator machine played in saving their son’s life.

“If he wasn’t born here where we have great hospitals and the best technology, he wouldn’t be with us right now,” Erica Palmer said. “I can’t imagine being in that situation without the doctors and equipment needed to save his life.”

The Palmers’ team included fellow BYU students Stetler Eppley, Rob Brown, Ryan Moffet and Pierce Bennett, as well as Dr. Stephen Minton, who is the director of the Newborn Intensive Care Unit development team for Intermountain Healthcare, according to a press release from Neonatal Rescue, the organization formed from their team.

“Dr. Minton was so important to our team,” said Erica Palmer, who is a former Deseret News intern. “He went to Cambodia where he visited the hospitals we want to place these ventilators in. He will be a crucial part of our efforts to not only get the machines in Cambodia, but to train hospital workers there how to use them.”

For the final competition, the group demonstrated why their venture will be sustainable. Their pitch included their in-country validation, business plan, device training protocol and local and in-country relationships. After they place a trial run of 10 donated devices in the country at various hospitals and health care centers, they hope to work through the government to sell the devices and the accompanying care kits, according to Palmer. In addition, they have since partnered with Team Africa, who took second place in the competition, and are working on entering the market in Uganda, she added.

The Palmers’ plan includes working with the Utah-based company ATL Technology, which has agreed to produce the devices at cost as well as waive thousands of dollars worth of fees, according to information from the Palmers.

Neonatal Rescue is planning to do testing at the University of Utah this spring and hopes to have the first 10 devices in Cambodia by this summer, Erica Palmer said. The organization estimates on its website at neonatalrescue.org that its efforts could save the lives of up to 5,000 Cambodian children each year.

“It’s not just a number though,” Erica Palmer said. “Each number represents a baby with so much potential and parents who have so many dreams for him or her.”

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