Almost a year ago to the day, I met Yale Zhang, 32, CEO of SafeHeart. It was 2:30am in the morning on May 23, 2014, and we were both drawn to Stone Mountain with hopes of witnessing the peak of the Camelopardalids meteor shower. He arrived at the base of the mountain with all of his camera equipment just as I was going. It was also his birthday, I remember, and the park was actually closed. “It was the first time I’d seen Atlanta from Stone Mountain in the dark,” he recalled. Neither of us actually saw any meteors that night (or so I thought), as the real light show dazzled stargazers near Joshua Tree National Park.
Fast forward to meeting him today at the mountain, where he demonstrated a Smartphone pulse iOximeter that he and his team at SafeHeart created, primarily inspired by “the deterioration in health of [Yale’s] father as he struggled with high blood pressure and other ailments.” He placed the plastic end of the device on my index finger (I felt like E.T.!), and that connected to the audio jack on his phone and communicated with a downloadable app to measure my oxygen saturation and heart rate (98 and 114, respectively, after hiking halfway up the mountain, if you’re curious).
While its primary applications are at once medical, the iOximeter is also popular with exercise fanatics into monitoring everything (stats can even be emailed from the app) and even useful in aviation. Now that the first pulse iOximeter is a solidly successful product with over 10,000 users, though, Zhang and SafeHeart have turned their attention to making a pediatric version of the device to help detect deadly childhood pneumonia in its early stages around the world and therefore save untold numbers of lives. Before talking with him, I didn’t realize that 1.2 million children, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, die from pneumonia every year. SafeHeart was recently awarded a $50,000 grant from the Atlantic Pediatric Consortium in March of this year and is currently vying for a $100,000 grant from Chase Bank. I can’t help but think that this device might’ve been useful to my very own late sister, who was on an oxygen machine in the months before she passed away five years ago. So I added to the 250 votes SafeHeart needs by June 19, to move into the next level of the Chase grant contest.
It’s clear to me now, that I did see a meteor that night after all. Zhang’s meteoric rise from the Chinese immigrant that came to Tuscaloosa, AL, with his parents in 1989, to CEO of a company that now aims to greatly reduce the childhood mortality rate in developing nations is undeniably radiant. I’d yet to start this website about the mountain when I met him last May, but maybe some cosmic debris brought us back together.