LifeWrap could save mothers' lives overseas

January 19, 2012 8:39:33 PM PST
A simple device developed in the Bay Area could soon save the lives of mothers in developing countries. It's called the LifeWrap and researchers at UCSF have high hopes for its straightforward design.

A pregnant woman volunteers to show off the device, but if her actual delivery were to trigger a hemorrhage, UCSF professor Suellen Miller, CNM, Ph.D., believes the garment she's wrapping her in could mean the difference between life and death.

"We've had great success saving women's lives," said Miller.

The suit is known as the LifeWrap. The rubberized fabric acts like a full body tourniquet to stop the bleeding and force oxygenated blood back into the mother's organs. Miller's team is now testing it in the developing world where early trials suggest it could cut maternal deaths in half.

"If they bleed they're very far from skilled care. They need something to buy them time so they can get to the kind of facility where they can get a blood transfusion or get surgery and that's what the anti-shock garment does. It buys time," said Miller.

She says hemorrhage is the number one killer of women of childbearing age in places like Africa. We recently visited a clinic in Sierra Leone -- a country that until recently had the highest maternal death rate in the world in part because the vast majority of women in rural areas still give birth at home making complications very difficult to manage.

But even in clinics, challenges remain. The UCSF team is hoping to present results from its current clinical trial to the World Health Organization. If the LifeWrap is added to the organization's approved medical device list, it would clear the way for donors to provide it to poorer countries, potentially saving thousands of lives.

The LifeWrap costs less than $300 and each can be used several dozen times. Miller's team hopes to complete their trial in about two years and then present the data to the World Health Organization.

Written and Produced by Tim Didion