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Necessity really is the mother of invention: Meet two nurses working on clever innovations to keep moms and babies healthy

They both had stressful experiences as new parents and took those challenging moments and turned them into something positive—inventions that have the potential to help other parents and newborns thrive, especially during the current pandemic.

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You’ve likely heard the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention.”

At Johnson & Johnson, we take that message to heart—especially when it comes to supporting nurses, whom we believe are some of healthcare’s greatest innovators.

It’s why Johnson & Johnson launched the Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge series in 2018, with the sole purpose of helping bring nurses’ bright ideas for how to improve healthcare to life through mentorship and funding.

The latest one, the Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge in Maternal and Newborn Health—held in partnership with the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses—was focused on finding innovative solutions for improving neonatal care, obstetrics and women’s health.

“With 2020 designated by the World Health Organization as International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, we were very excited to launch the Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge in Maternal and Newborn Health,” says Lynda Benton, Senior Director, Global Corporate Equity at Johnson & Johnson. “We knew that nurses and midwives were innovating in this space every day, that it was an area with many needs, and hoped that this challenge would help to inspire more nurses and midwives to bring their great ideas forward. We continue to be blown away by the quality and depth of the submissions for each challenge we have launched, and our two awardees for this challenge are equally impressive.”

We sat down with both of the winners—each of whom will receive $50,000 in grant funding and mentorship from experts at the Johnson & Johnson family of companies—to learn about their work, the impact they’re already having on the health of moms and babies, and their plans for making that impact even bigger.

“I want all pregnant women and new moms to feel prepared—and supported”

You’d think Sigi Marmorstein, who was working as a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse when she was pregnant with her first child, would have felt ready for labor, delivery and becoming a mother.

Sigi Marmorstein, founder and CEO of digital health platform BabyLiveAdvice

Sigi Marmorstein, founder and CEO of digital health platform BabyLiveAdvice

Yet when her son was born with facial paralysis, and she experienced hemorrhaging afterward, she felt lost.

“I’m a nurse! I know things about babies,” Marmorstein says. “But I didn’t feel like I knew what was happening with me, or that my healthcare providers were really supporting my pregnancy and postpartum journey.”

So in 2014, when Marmorstein became the director of a telehealth services company, she knew exactly what she wanted to do to help other women feeling the same way.

“I wanted to figure out a way to keep an eye and ear on mom and baby throughout her pregnancy and those potentially tough postpartum days,” she says. “I wanted us to be able to go home with them, in a way.”

Enter BabyLiveAdvice, a digital platform designed to support, educate and empower mothers and parents so they feel confident and knowledgeable about pregnancy, delivery, breastfeeding, infant care and more. It features both video and chat components so moms can easily get help online from a healthcare provider, midwife, nurse, mental health practitioner and even a peer if something concerning is going on.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, BabyLiveAdvice has seen a surge in users.

“Like everyone, new moms are at home more now, and unfortunately that’s increasing everything from anxiety to depression,” Marmorstein says. “Our ability to connect with new moms who may be struggling in a number of ways is so helpful right now.”

Marmorstein’s ultimate goal is to reach 1 million moms around the world, and she’s hopeful that being an awardee in the Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge in Maternal and Newborn Health will help her do just that.

“One of our big goals is to keep the membership cost down so everyone can access BabyLiveAdvice,” she says. “We’d also love to provide even more educational services for free, so more women feel more prepared to become mothers.”

I want to help other parents avoid the situation my wife and I found ourselves in. We could’ve lost our baby because of a lack of equipment. No parent should have to face that.
Wisam Breegi

“We created the world’s first low-cost, all-in-one neonatal intensive care incubator”

Wisam Breegi was working in clinical research in Baghdad, Iraq, when his son was born a couple of weeks early during the height of the Gulf War. Breegi rushed his wife to the hospital, but due to frequent bombings, the electricity was out—which meant the incubator his newborn needed wasn’t working.

“Our infant son was so cold he was blue,” Breegi says. “We had to leave the hospital well before we should have so we could sit in the car with him, because at least we could get heat there.”

Years later, that experience inspired Breegi to create a battery- and solar-powered neonatal intensive care incubator (NICI). Imagine a little tent that combines heat and humidity control, photo therapy (to help treat jaundice) and even WiFi and artificial intelligence to help care optimally for a baby.


Nicole Lincoln, senior manager of nursing innovation at Boston Medical Center

It’s every bit as high-tech as the incubators you’ll find in a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit—with one difference. The NICI is disposable—meaning it’s sterile—and affordable, costing about $2,000, compared to $100,000 for the average hospital incubator. Plus, it can be used at home as well as in the hospital.

But before Breegi could move forward with his invention, he knew he’d also need input from a nurse.

“Nurses are the most essential piece in the development of a good, practical medical device,” he says. “They understand what works best for patients, and what they need when using the equipment so they can best help those patients.”

So Breegi tapped Nicole Lincoln, senior manager of nursing innovation at Boston Medical Center, to help analyze his initial designs. The 25-year nursing veteran gave a lot of feedback, suggested tweaks and, as new design iterations and prototypes became available, grew more and more excited about what a medical device like this could mean for new moms and their babies. For example, she says, parents might use the NICI at home to treat something like jaundice, where in most cases a baby is stable but needs a certain number of hours of photo therapy a day.

And according to Breegi, Lincoln and her team have been quick to respond to the current pandemic by adapting their NICI technology to potentially help babies born to mothers who test positive for COVID-19.

“We see an average of two to three women give birth each week who test positive for the novel coronavirus,” Lincoln says. “The NICI could keep those babies safely contained, helping free up a hospital bed so that mom and baby can go home but remain isolated. It could also reduce the risk of hospital staff contracting the virus because it doesn’t need to be cleaned—it can be thrown out.”

While the NICI isn’t on the market yet, Breegi and Lincoln hope the grant they’ve just been awarded from Johnson & Johnson will make a big difference in helping make that happen.

“I want to help other parents avoid the situation my wife and I found ourselves in,” Breegi says. “We could’ve lost our baby because of a lack of equipment. No parent should have to face that.”

Have a Smart Idea for Helping Make Childbirth Safer?

Johnson & Johnson is awarding up to $200,000 in grant funding, plus mentoring from company experts, to big thinkers with potential solutions for improving pregnancy, birth and postpartum care in the United States.

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