The Atlanta Business Chronicle presented Dr. Ha Van Vo, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Mercer University, with its 2010 Health-Care Heroes Award for Innovation during the paper’s 13th annual awards program in Atlanta on May 20.
Dr. Vo was recognized for his groundbreaking work in designing and deploying low-cost artificial limbs in third-world countries, including his native Vietnam.
“I’m very thankful to the Atlanta Business Chronicle for this recognition and I’m thankful for my wife and parents who supported me,” Dr. Vo said. “I feel rewarded as well when I can help people to walk again, especially people in Vietnam and Haiti who aren’t able to afford to buy a prosthetic for themselves -- people who were forced to crawl in the dust but are able to walk again.”
The Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Health-Care Heroes Awards honor “the true heroes in Atlanta’s health care industry – those who push us to the forefront of research, innovation and achievement and those who toil behind the scenes in roles that are creative, vital and, often, heartwarming.” Awards are presented in five categories – Physician, Innovation, Employer and Community Outreach. The paper also presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to American Cancer Society CEO Dr. John R. Seffrin. This year the paper presented a special Haiti Service Award to CARE, the Atlanta-based humanitarian organization, for its work in Haiti in the aftermath of last January’s devastating earthquake.
In presenting the award in the Innovation category, the Atlanta Business Chronicle cited Dr. Vo for his work in helping people in developing countries walk and live more productive lives.
“I want to congratulate Dr. Vo on behalf of the faculty, staff and students at the School of Engineering,” said Dr. Wade Shaw, dean of the School of Engineering. “He is a true Health-Care Hero and such a positive influence on campus. We are very proud of him. It is my pleasure to know Ha and his family and enjoy his enthusiasm for learning and helping others.”
Working with students in Mercer’s School of Engineering, Dr. Vo in 2008 designed a Universal Socket Prosthetic (USP) that led to a breakthrough in the manufacture of inexpensive artificial legs. The Clinton Global Initiative University – a program of the William J. Clinton Foundation – recognized Dr. Vo’s and Mercer’s efforts to help amputees in developing nations “as an exemplary approach to addressing a specific global challenge” during the organization’s annual conference in Austin, Texas, in February 2009.
Less than four months after receiving this national recognition, Dr. Vo, along with fellow engineering faculty member Dr. Ramachandran Radharamanan and 12 students, traveled to Vietnam as part of the Mercer On Mission program to fit amputees with 35 artificial limbs they had manufactured using the USP design. These prosthetics cost less than $250 each to manufacture, compared to $15,000 and up for custom-fitted above-the-knee prosthetics.
More than 2,000 Vietnamese are injured each year by unexploded ordnance from the Vietnam War. An estimated 100,000 amputees live in Vietnam today and there are more than 18 million amputees around the world, with more than 80 percent of those living in developing countries.
In February 2010, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance awarded Dr. Vo with a $37,275 grant to help him perfect his design and set up a prosthetic lab and clinic in Vietnam. Today, he is working with Mercer industrial engineers to design a manufacturing cell that can ultimately be used as a prototype in developing countries, facilitating large-scale production of low-cost prosthetics.
Dr. Vo will return to Vietnam on June 3 with a Mercer On Mission team to fit another 100 Vietnamese with prosthetics and to begin teaching doctors and engineers in that country how to manufacture the devices themselves.
Prospects for deploying this low-cost prosthetic to other developing countries have developed in recent weeks. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship awarded Dr. Vo with a $50,000 grant to deploy the prosthetics program in Haiti. Dr. Vo, along with Mercer engineering students, University Minister Craig McMahan and CBF representatives, traveled to Haiti May 13-17 to fit 20 victims who lost limbs in the 2010 earthquake. The plan is to return in late summer or early fall with additional prosthetics for earthquake victims.