One summer day when I was 12 years old, I was babysitting my 4-year-old sister, and while busy playing a video game, she called out to me and said she couldn’t see anything. Thinking she was joking I ignored her. When she said it a second time, she was laughing when she said it, but that didn’t stop an anxious feeling from coming over me at the oddness of such a statement. That feeling was strong enough that I turned off my game immediately and went to check on her. As I stepped into her room, I realized she wasn’t joking at all. She clearly could not see. That anxious feeling quickly turned into fear, knowing something was terribly wrong.
My parents were at a Costco buying a month’s worth of groceries, a many hour-long event that everyone in the family hated, and I knew they would be angry at me if I called them to ask them to come home. Barring that, I didn’t even know how to begin convincing them that this was really happening, and so I just decided to bring her down stairs. I sat my still giggling sister on the couch and did a wait and see, not knowing what else to do. A few minutes later, she stated that she felt sick and immediately dropped as she went into a full convulsive seizure. Terrified and with no idea of what to do, I ran to call my parents, but could not reach them. Alone and scared, I waited and watched as my baby sister violently seized for almost 15 minutes, completely helpless to do anything. I was deeply stung by this experience, and saw the resulting fallout within my family from my sister’s Epilepsy diagnosis.
My mom had led a very successful career in human resources up to that point that she immediately quit so she care for my sister full-time. Because of the hospitalizations, antiepileptic drugs, and losing half of our income from my mom retiring early, our family began to suffer financially, cutting costs anywhere they could to pay the mounting medical bills. This added stress greatly strained the situation, including my parent’s marriage. The worst part however, was the dramatic shift in my sister’s personality from the medication. She went from a bright and happy little girl who could bring a smile to anyone’s face, to a withdrawn and quiet introvert that would rarely speak.
At 23 years old, after working as an insurance agent for 6 years, I decided to make a career change to something that was more meaningful and could make a greater impact. With this in mind, I entered the Biomedical engineering program at Arizona State University. In the fall of 2015, I happened upon an email from our academic advisor office on a new class that was being offered, called Entrepreneurship for Engineers, and having just left being an entrepreneur in the insurance industry, I was excited to get back at it in a more robust way. During that class, we were asked to think about 10 things that bothered us the most and write them down.
At first I listed things like traffic, the unending homework facing an engineering student, and paying for school, but after some reflection I was reminded of the events of my childhood, the terror of my sister’s 15 minute seizure, the lack of information and assistance from doctors, and the stress of constantly watching for another episode. It was at that point I realized the potential a monitoring device could have. After pitching the idea in the class, going through several iterations of solutions, reaching out to the online Epilepsy communities, and further refining our idea, Korwave was born. We ended up winning a $1,000 grant from eSeed program to continue the idea, along with mentorship and access to a number of helpful resources at ASU. In July of 2016 we launched idea online, www.korwhat.com, with overwhelming support and gained many sign-ups for prototypes within just a 12 hour period, despite our website crashing several times (sorry about that!).
Over the course of the next few months we continuously improved our prototype concept based on feedback from the families, going from an ugly helmet to a sleek Nike headband/Beats wireless headphones model, all while picking up pitch competition wins and much-needed prize money along the way. I also learned quite a bit about Epilepsy during that time, like how it takes a typical patient 10 years from initial Epilepsy diagnosis to receive the appropriate treatment to control seizures, while 30% of those patient’s conditions remain uncontrolled. Additionally, because the person only sees their neurologist for brief office visits (i.e. 15 minutes, once every three months), the physician is exposed to only a snapshot of their seizure activity. This results in a “best guess” type of treatment and is considered a primary reason why control of seizures is often delayed. Even worse, there is little research data on Epilepsy compared to other neurological disorders, with the largest databases containing less than 5,000 patients. This limited data makes it is difficult to understand the causes and develop new therapies, forcing researchers to rely on inaccurate animal models.
From all of this, we are developing Korwave to do three key things: it is a mobile, wireless, brain monitoring medical device for patients with Epilepsy, pending our FDA clearance. Korwave would be worn on the head, and looks like a Nike headband or Beats wireless headphones.
It works by continuously monitoring the patient’s brain activity, and when a seizure happens, our system detects it, and notifies the caretaker. If the seizure lasts for too long, Korwave will call 911 and provide them with the location and medical information of the patient.
At the end of each month, Korwave creates a digest of seizure activity and then securely sends it to the patient’s neurologist via our web platform, which allows the physician to provide better care and hopefully improve the outcomes of the patient.
Our long-term goal is to end the burdens of Epilepsy on patients and their families by using the data gathered over time to find new insights into how the brain works, understand why certain people develop it, and push this to the research community to develop highly targeted, and more effective therapies.
At the end of the day, I want to cure Epilepsy.
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