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Grad Student with Heart, Lung Damage Wins Multiple Prizes to Develop Life-Saving Device

November 29, 2018 – A graduate student who suffers from life-threatening heart and lung damage has won multiple prizes to develop a wearable device that would alert people when their vital signs go out of normal range and call 911 for help.

Shavini Fernando holds two oversized checks for $30,000 and $5,000 with people behind herShavini Fernando (G’18), a Communication, Culture and Technology (CCT) student from Sri Lanka, won first prize – $30,000 – and the People's Choice Award – $5,000 – at the annual Leonsis Family Entrepreneurship Prize "Bark Tank" pitch competition on Nov. 28.

The prize helps students launch viable new businesses that add value to society. Fernando was one of eight Leonsis Family Entreprenuership Prize finalists.

Vital Signs

“There’s currently no device that helps people with my condition get an alert as their vitals start going out of normal range or to get help,” says Fernando, who suffers from Eisenmenger’s Syndrome. “That’s why I’m developing this wearable device. We don’t always feel the oxygen dropping or the heart rate changes until they get to life-threatening numbers.”

Her device, O2Wear, is primarily for people with pulmonary hypertension but could be used by anyone who wants to be aware of their vital signs and for emergencies, especially for elderly people and people with cardiac issues.

“This is not just my win,” Fernando says of last night's competition, “It's a win for each and every person with pulmonary hypertension around the world.”

On Nov. 18, Fernando won the School of Foreign Service's Global Impact Pitch Competition, for which she will receive $5,000 toward bringing her device to fruition.

Winning projects were judged on their ability to have a positive impact on any international challenge, problem or issue, their potential to be finanically sustainable, solve a problem or meet a need people are willing to pay for and likely to be implemented by their creators.

As a winner of the competition, Fernando will have networking and mentoring opportunities to help her implement her concept.

The graduate student also won an additional $500 at the event as one of two winners of the People's Choice Award. 

Shavini Fernando stands in front of the Healy Building Carefree Workaholic

Fernando’s heart condition wasn’t diagnosed for more than 30 years, resulting in serious damage to her heart and lungs.Though she will likely one day need a heart and lung transplant, with treatment, Fernando not only functions but says she is “carefree” and a “workaholic.”

Her condition got diagnosed after she came to the United States in 2015, at age 33.

“It was tough to just sit at home doing nothing,” the 36-year-old explains, “The best and the easiest option was to study again. So here I am at CCT.”

Fernando holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom and finished an MBA at the Edith Cowan University of Australia in 2012.

CCT's Interdisciplinary Quality

She later taught at Edith Cowan’s Sri Lanka campus, has worked as a website and software developer at a U.K.-based IT company in Sri Lanka and almost completed a master’s in computer science from UNSW Sydney.

When not studying, she creates video and virtual reality games and works in Lauinger Library’s Maker Hub.

“The reason I selected CCT was because of its interdisciplinary quality,” says Fernando, who graduates in December and hopes to soon finish a working model of her device. “I was looking for a program in which I can mix what I learned from my MBA with my software developing and graphic design skills.”

“CCT helped me to discover the skills that I was never aware of,” she adds. “After completing so many programs at different universities all over the world I would say CCT is the program I enjoyed the most.”

She says her Buddhist faith keeps her centered.

“I might die tomorrow by falling off a chair, not from my disease,” says Fernando. “I’m a very carefree person. I have always lived for today.”