Careers & Student Outcomes

Student Q&A: Biomedical Engineering Seniors Build App to Prevent Postpartum Hemorrhaging

HeraHealth relies on an image-processing algorithm to contact a new mother’s physician when she may be in danger

For their capstone project, biomedical engineering seniors Sophia Mains ’24, Lauren Smith ’24 and Aya Zaatreh ’24 built an app, HeraHealth, with an aim to help new mothers. Serving as their advisor for this project was Sally Shady, teaching associate professor and associate chair of undergraduate studies, Department of Biomedical Engineering.

The three women joined Avery Aquino ’25, a third-year biomedical engineering  undergraduate student, to share their experiences in engineering the potentially life-saving app, which they presented at Innovation Expo 2024.

A group of four women stand together in front of a conference poster with "BMES" signageLeft to right: Aya Zaatreh '24, Lauren Smith '24, Sophia Mains '24 and Teaching Associate Professor Sally Shady attended the 2023 Annual Biomedical Engineering Society Conference in Seattle, Washington to present their senior design research.

Aquino: Please introduce yourselves.

Smith: I’m Lauren Smith. I’m from Morristown, New Jersey, and after graduation, I’m staying at Stevens for my fifth year in the Accelerated Master’s Program (AMP) to get my master’s degree in engineering management. Meanwhile, I’ll be working at Merck as a co-op intern from June to December.

Mains: I’m Sophia Mains. I’m originally from San Clemente, California. After I graduate, I’m also participating in the Accelerated Master’s Program in engineering management.

Zaatreh: My name is Aya Zaatreh and I’m from East Brunswick, New Jersey. After graduation, I’m going to Columbia University to obtain my master’s degree in biomedical engineering.

Aquino: Can you provide an overview of what you’ve been working on for senior design?

Zaatreh: Our project was to try to find a way to reduce maternal mortality due to postpartum hemorrhage. The United States is leading in maternal mortality among all of the developed nations.

Mains: In order to solve this problem, we decided to develop an app where it has a specialized image processing algorithm. Using this, the new mother can take a picture of her maternal pad and upload it to our application. It will track how much blood she’s losing, and it’ll calculate how much is lost over a 24-hour period. 

Zaatreh: We decided to target the first 24 hours after delivery because this is the most critical time to observe.

Mains: [With our app, the patient’s] doctors can then tell if she’s reaching the hemorrhaging threshold. If she’s approaching the hemorrhaging threshold, the physicians are notified. Then they can initiate life-saving treatment sooner than the current methods. [The current methods] can sometimes be delayed since the vitals show effects after the blood is lost. So, we’re trying to catch the hemorrhaging before it actually occurs.

Aquino: What are the significant features of the app?

Smith: There are two main aspects. First, a woman makes an account. She takes a photo of her maternal pad, uploads it to the app, and then our algorithm calculates the volume of blood within the pad and logs it. If it reaches around 450 milliliters of blood, she’s considered in the danger zone of hemorrhaging, and her clinician is contacted. 

Outside that main functionality, we included a big section in our app to educate women on the risks during postpartum. During our research, we interviewed a lot of moms in the Hoboken area who have recently gone through childbirth. And we found that there’s a lack of educational resources for women during postpartum. There’s a lot of things they’re not sure about: “How much blood is too much blood to be losing?” and “Is the way I’m feeling right now normal?” such as extreme exhaustion, among other things. So we’ve included all of those resources in an easy-to-follow guide in the app just for reference. 

Mains: It can empower the woman to feel comfortable taking pictures of that pad and knowing that they’re helping themselves stay safe and healthy. They can understand why this is important.

We also hope that eventually the image-processing algorithm can be applied to other menstrual blood loss applications such as tracking blood loss during menopause or for someone who thinks they might have endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Going to the doctor’s, they ask you how frequently you bleed on your menstrual cycle, and it’s sometimes hard to gauge how much that is. So we hope that if they have exact quantifications, doctors can use that information to diagnose, treat and get them help sooner.

Aquino: How did you come across this idea? What inspired this project?

Smith: At the end of our junior year, all three of us in our biomechanics class under Dr. Shady did research projects within female health. Sophia and I worked on intrauterine device (IUD) expulsion in postpartum women, and Aya worked on anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear effects during the menstrual cycle. We submitted both of our projects to the Biomedical Engineering Society Conference and were accepted, so we traveled to Seattle in the fall to present them. So, coming into senior design and working with Dr. Shady, she knew that the three of us were very interested in female health. Then Dr. Shady came across this postpartum hemorrhage topic, and we did some research. This got our wheels spinning about it.

Mains: Personally, I want to go to medical school and become an OBGYN. Last summer, I was working in Jersey City Medical Center, so adding on to what Lauren was saying, being there, I saw the lack of monitoring that occurs after the woman leaves the delivery room. Then, coming across this issue [for senior design], I felt very passionately about pursuing this. 

Aquino: Working together, were there any specific roles or responsibilities each member has?

Zaatreh: I feel that we all really worked together with everything. Lauren developed a lot of the user interface, but then we all looked at it and edited it together. The same thing [happened] with the image algorithm, because I took imaging before them in the fall. I had a little background, and was able to build a skeleton code, so together we updated it and made changes. 

Aquino: Were there any challenges you faced during the project? How did you overcome them?

Zaatreh: We don’t really have a lot of coding background. So it was definitely an adjustment in terms of getting the framework to read correctly.

Smith:  On the first day of senior design, everyone in the class had to go around and say their strengths and weaknesses, and all three of us said that our weakness was coding. Our workflow for the project was to do a lot of research first [to] really understand the problem and then develop different solutions and engineering analyses for them. 

When we decided that the solution was probably going to be coding with Matlab and making something new, it was definitely going to be a challenge. But, all together, the three of us have done a lot of research and worked hard to overcome the lack of knowledge we had before.

Aquino: Are there any future plans in the development of this project beyond senior design?

Mains: We’d like to see it  past senior design, hopefully. We’re looking for some help funding-wise, with legal help for a patent and money for FDA approval, as well as marketing. Also getting the app more software help, like getting it launched on an iOS. We also applied for an LLC, so we have an actual company .

The name of the app is HeraHealth. This comes from the Greek goddess, Hera, who overlooks women when they’re giving birth. So, it’s HeraHeath, because our app is going to be overlooking and making sure women are safe after they give birth. 

Aquino: Do you have any advice regarding senior design projects for upcoming seniors?

Zaatreh: Throw yourself into your project, because you’re working on this for a whole year. You’ll definitely learn something new, and you’ll learn to love what you’re doing, and I feel like that’s the whole point of senior design. You have a project that you’re proud of and you can talk about. That’s what’s so great about our project. I literally love what we did, and I’m super proud of everything we’ve done.

Smith: You also have to expect that it’s going to get hard. So, choose a topic that you personally care about and want to spend a great amount of time on, with people who have the same passion as you.

Mains: If you put your all into it, you’re going to learn so much. Maybe it won't become a company. Maybe you don’t make money off of this specific thing, but you’re going to learn so much that you can apply later in life. I feel we’ve already learned so much throughout this whole process. 

Aquino: Thank you so much for talking with me. I wish you all the best with your plans after graduation.

Learn more about academic programs and research in the Department of Biomedical Engineering: