New Simulator May Help Babies With Shoulder Dystocia

January 9, 2015

A new birthing simulator being worked on by engineering students at Kettering University may help infants who are born with shoulder dystocia. The new simulator, a doll named Noelle, is dressed in a hospital gown. She also comes with blonde hair, socks, and a medical bracelet. There is hope that the simulator may provide a powerful tool for medical students.

According to reports, the Genesys Medical Center gave Noelle to Kettering to develop her further. Once she is fully developed, she will be able to blink her eyes, have a voice, and have veins in her right arm.

“As much real-world experience as we can give them, they are going understand the environment better,” said Kettering’s mechanical engineering professor, Theresa Atkinson. “As an engineer, if you understand the environment physicians are working in a little better, you will do a better job making a tool that works well for them.”

A New Learning Experience for Students at Kettering

Biomedical students, along with premed students, can both benefit from Noelle. For example, the engineering students can make make tools such as medical monitors and can construct artificial body parts. Meanwhile, premed students can benefit from Noelle by enhancing their learning on births and birth injuries, especially laparoscopic surgery.

“The tools for that type of work, of course, depend on physicians and engineers working together,” Atkinson said. “In the classroom, you are pretty far removed from the real world. Anything we can do to bring the real world into the classroom will really help the students understand what they need to do once they get into the real world.”

So far, the Kettering engineering students have created a plastic arm for Noelle. The purpose behind it is to give medical students practice on treating shoulder dystocia, and how to practice the most safest techniques on infants who have shoulder dystocia during childbirth.

Is Shoulder Dystocia a Real Problem?

Shoulder dystocia occurs when an infant’s anterior shoulder gets lodged in the mother’s pelvic area during childbirth. When shoulder dystocia happens, the baby’s body doesn’t come out naturally after the head is out. Although the results vary greatly, some studies show that 25% to 50% of infants experience shoulder dystocia.

Physicians who are well-trained on issues such as shoulder dystocia are better able to use medical maneuvers and other techniques to deliver the baby safely. However, if the infant remains stuck in the mother’s pelvic area for too long, a host of medical issues may arise.

The most damaging medical issue is when an infant experiences lack of oxygen. If oxygen is cut off, even for a few minutes, the baby is at a heightened risk of developing brain damage. If brain damage occurs, even more medical problems may arise, such as cerebral palsy, cognitive issues, and more.

Another issue that babies with shoulder dystocia face is nerve damage. If the correct procedures aren’t used when delivering the baby, the physician may accidentally yank or pull too hard on the shoulder, which can lead to issues such as brachial plexus palsy or Erb’s palsy and Klumpke’s palsy (both are forms of brachial plexus palsy).