Follow your heart... | Daily News

Follow your heart...


She has been dubbed as the ‘Wonder Woman’ of Sri Lanka. The reason behind this is her ability to defy what had been written down in her medical history. She took control of her health by taking matters into her own hands and today she is an inspiration for many youth and entrepreneurs.

Georgetown University student Shavini Fernando was informed that she is suffering from a life- threatening heart and lung damage some years back. Instead of letting her undiagnosed condition of pulmonary hypertension (PH) via Eisenmenger’s Syndrome get the best of her, this determined young lady came up with an innovative device which not only saved her life but is also able to touch the life of many other estranged souls. Branded ‘OxiWear’ Shavini’s wearable tech device alerts users when their oxygen levels drop critically low.

When doctors in Sri Lanka told Shavini that she had only a couple of years to live, she sought treatment at John Hopkins University. During her stay in the US she had engaged in studies related graphic design, IT and business which resulted in creating virtual reality and video games.

She was rushed to hospital one day after her English for Heritage programme coworkers noticed that her face had turned blue. Although she had not felt any physical discomforts, her heart had stopped. The oxygen levels of a PH patient drop with the slightest activity, usually without the person realizing it before they lose consciousness. This leads to the death of many PH patients, especially children who lapse into unconsciousness while they are asleep.

“My doctors have warned me not to live alone as you cannot predict when my oxygen levels will drop. This gave me the idea of developing a device to monitor my vitals,” the

Communication, Culture and Technology (CCT) alumna explained.

It took many months of collaborative hard work. Shavini used light sensors, like those in a Fitbit, to calculate the ration of oxygenated blood cells. She created a wearable device for the ear that

With the Exceptional Master’s Student Award 2018-2019 

beeps when levels stray from a user-specified oxygen range. This is a warning for the user to call 911 and seek the medical attention he or she needs.

So far the only device available for people suffering from PH to measure their vitals has been a massive finger cuff.

“No one can wear it all the time. You cannot get any work done with a gigantic item like that on your fingers,” Shavini said adding that being a hands-on person, she enjoys breaking and making things as she is curious on how products function.

She has swept the board at many entrepreneurship competitions for her innovative life-saving device.

OxiWear made an impact at events like Leonsis Family Entrepreneurship Prize ‘Bark Tank’, the People’s Choice Award, and the Global Impact Pitch Competition. Potential investors poured in, seeking Shavini to become a part of OxiWear’s success story.

Looking back on the road less traveled that she has taken Shavini comments, “It has been a long journey. I never expected that I will file a patent in my life or make an invention. You do not know what is in your path until life puts you in a situation where you need to do something to face it rather than trying to escape from it. I have received so much support from the DC Community and it is nice to see how they welcome and help a female entrepreneur - especially one of colour. From all my experiences what I learnt is they recognize you for your skills without any biases. That is something people in Sri Lanka need to learn because I have faced so many situations where my skills were not recognized, and my ideas were unheard because I’m a woman. Sri Lankans consider outspoken women and women with ideas as abrasive. I was recognized by Georgetown University and everywhere for that same quality over here. I was given the TEDx Platform to put out those ideas and was awarded the DCFemTech Award for 2019.

The newest feather on her cap was becoming a 2019 DCFemTech Awards recipient. She was listed among the 49 most influential women around DC at this event.

“It was one of the biggest honours I have received in my life. It feels good to be recognized and be supported than being unheard for a change. I think every person despite their gender; colour or disabilities should be heard and recognized for their skills and ideas. Those crazy ideas are what turns out to be innovative. You are merely discouraging an inventor by looking down on them,” she opined.

Shavini’s next step is to create a smaller, production-level prototype of her device, launch a kickstarter campaign, and find partner companies.

“When life throws challenges or problems at you, don’t try to escape from them. Face these situations and try to find a solution for each problem so that you can prevent others from facing that same problem. Don’t let those challenges put you down - instead use them as a reason to make you stronger. It’s all in our heads. We are much stronger than we seem. If we put our minds to it, we can face any problem. The biggest mistake I made in life was letting people define who I was by letting them decide for me. Like Toni Morrison said, “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” So don’t let everyone’s opinions get to your head and stop you from putting those crazy ideas to practice. Take those opinions as a catalyzer to make you stronger. You might not succeed the first time, but that doesn’t mean you are a failure. Keep trying till you succeed. None of the inventors or entrepreneurs including Bill Gates and Steve Jobs got it right the first time.

They are in those positions today because they didn’t give up and because they didn’t stop trying. Learn to filter the advice and opinions you get and take what is helpful and would make you a better person. Ignore the negative ones.

Let people talk behind your back or say anything they want. Don’t let it get to your head because if someone spreads rumours about you, that is because you are doing something better than them and when you succeed you will see those same people saying good things about you. You can oversee your life and create your own future if you can navigate your life more purposefully,” she concluded with a smile.

Engaged in product manufacturing
With the Leonsis Family Entrepreneurship Prize ‘Bark Tank’
With the DCFemTech Award


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