Premature infants to benefit from students' effort

Students at Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan are coming together to create a non-electric infant warming blanket for premature babies in developing countries: The project is called Warmilu. According to it’s website, warmilu.org, 450 infants die every hour worldwide in part because of hypothermia-related causes.

The blanket was designed to increase and maintain body temperature in premature infants; it’s made of a light-weight material with a waterproof outer cover, and insulation layers for heat retention.

Cathryn Amidei, EMU associate professor of apparel, textiles and merchandising, said the idea began in 2011 as a class project for materials science engineering students at U of M.

“They needed somebody to work with,” she said. “It wasn’t something that I could just answer their questions and off they go. And so, I had one great student who had the appropriate skill set to work with them.”

Amidei asked Ana Barge, an EMU apparel, textiles and merchandising major, whether she would be interested in helping design the blanket. Barge said her experience as a single mother of three children inspired her to become involved with the project.

“I think when it had something to do with a baby, I jumped at it,” Barge said. “I did a lot of sewing for my kids when they were small.”

Amidei said part of what makes this blanket unique is the special tubing used to provide
heat.

“That’s the material science element of it that is really important to this success. Otherwise, this is just a blanket,” she said.

The blanket, which only reaches 42 degrees to prevent overheating, was tested on a human infant and was successful in providing heat and comfort.

There is still a long way to go before distribution, but Barge said they’re making progress every day.

“They’re going to take a new prototype to India next week,” she said. “That’s the only place in the world where they found that they have a similar product, but they’re only selling it in India.”

Their next goal is to create a warming blanket from at least 75 percent recycled materials, which would allow Warmilu to mass produce the blankets in the United States instead of shipping them overseas.

Barge said perfecting the prototype has been the most challenging part of the entire process.

“It’s still evolving. It’s my job to keep making the corrections until it is perfected,” she said. “It’s a process. You can’t just make it and say ‘boom’ it’s ready. It doesn’t work that way.”

Despite the challenges, Barge said she’s proud to be participating in a project that would give so many infants a greater chance at life.

“I think it’s a good cause,” she said. “I mean, who doesn’t want to see a little baby survive?”


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