Cross Campus Teamwork and a Whole lot of Heart

One in four of us is at risk for heart disease within the next three years, increasing our risk of cardiac arrest over the same period. Half will experience cardiac arrest while alone, and only five percent of those will survive—unless help arrives quickly.


Undeterred by those numbers, three VCU units joined forces with a single goal: to save lives, motivated by the longtime vision of Joseph Ornato, M.D., chair of the VCU Department of Emergency Medicine and a certified internist and cardiologist. “Buildings have smoke alarms that mitigate the chance of serious damage to them, yet we don’t have similar protection,” he noted.

Collaborating as a capstone design team, entrepreneurial seniors from engineering and business created an easy-to-use bracelet that monitors a wearer’s heart rate and automatically calls 911 if cardiac arrest occurs. Branded as Cardian—a hybrid of “cardiac” and “guardian”—the device pairs with a powerful database that uses the web and apps to alert the patient, family, EMS, physicians, and the hospital.

“Every minute that your heart stops, you lose a 10 percent chance that your life will be saved,” Ornato said. “In 10 minutes, you’re down to 10 percent.”

The Cardian team, under faculty adviser Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, presented its device at the annual capstone design expo in 2018.

“Medical wireless telemetry will revolutionize health care in the next decade and beyond, and Cardian is just a start,” Topsakal said.

According to Bennett C. Ward, Ph.D., VCU Engineering’s director of project outreach and capstone design coordinator, one of the most remarkable benefits was the students’ commitment to making it real. All seven members stayed on the project after graduation.

“Buildings have smoke alarms that mitigate the chance of serious damage to them, yet we don’t have similar protection.”

Joseph P. Ornato, M.D., FACP, FACC,FACEP Chairman, Department of Emergency Medicine Professor, Division of Emergency Medical Services Medical Director, Richmond Ambulance Authority