Saving Premature Babies

A doctor’s invention saves babies in the developing world

(This article by Lisa Martin originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of “TCU Magazine.”

By anyone’s reckoning, Thomas Hansen ’70 has earned a retirement filled with long walks along the shore, late nights at the theater and invigorating travel. Yet upon stepping down as Seattle Children’s Hospital’s CEO after a decade-long tenure, the medical doctor headed back to his laboratory to continue working on a low-cost device that could mean the difference between life and death for premature infants around the globe.

Photo of Dr. Thomas Hansen '70

Dr. Thomas Hansen ’70. Photo by Anil Kapahi

“In the U.S., an infant beyond 26 weeks gestation has an outstanding chance of survival, but many hospitals in the developing world don’t even try to save those babies.”

“A million infants die a year as a result of underdeveloped lungs,” said Hansen, whose gentle drawl betrays his Texas roots. “In the U.S., an infant beyond 26 weeks gestation has an outstanding chance of survival, but many hospitals in the developing world don’t even try to save those babies because they are a huge drain on resources.”

Enter Seattle Children’s Positive Airway Pressure, a machine that breathes for newborns too sick, tiny or weak to do so on their own and costs as little as $20 to build. A grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation helped finance what’s grown from a three- to a five-year project. Hansen said he will consider retiring in earnest when that support concludes in late 2018.

Read more about Hansen’s vision and innovation in TCU Magazine.