Toronto teen builds heart alert device for ailing mother | Toronto Star

Frank Nguyen wasn’t like most kids. When he went to school, his heart stayed at home.

That’s where his mother was.

He couldn’t stop worrying about her. In Grade 6 he confessed that he was distracted by the clock on the wall in his classroom. He’d keep looking at it to see the time, and he’d burn to know whether she was all right.

“My mom started getting really sick,” Frank recalled. “I’d be scared she would have problems and I didn’t know about it.”

The disquiet trailed him for years. Now he’s 17 and she’s blind in one eye, partially sighted in the other, and has trouble hearing. She’s also prone to bouts of dizziness, has thyroid issues, and was recently referred to a cardiologist for an irregular heartbeat.

But Frank has big plans.

Inspired by his accumulated concern for his mother, who is 60 and named Lan, Frank poured himself into a summer project at a special tech camp at Ryerson University. Now he has a prototype of a working heart rate alert device that he hopes will one day launch a start up business. Called the HelpWear HeartWatch, the blocky yellow contraption sits on the wrist and uses a light and censor to track the heart rate. In the event of a heart attack, it is programmed to send a text message to a loved one or emergency services.

That means no more worrying in the dark.

“I had an idea of trying to make something that could help her, but it wasn’t until this year, when her doctor said her heart sounded kind of weird … That’s when the idea of a heart monitor came up,” said Frank. “You just hear a lot of statistics about people dying of heart attacks. It’s really scary.”

Frank and Lan live together in northwest Toronto, in the Jane St. and Finch Ave. neighbourhood. During the Vietnam War, Lan had an ear infection that festered and went untreated; health problems have persisted and spread ever since. Lan doesn’t go outside much anymore, because of her bad hearing and limited sight, and aside from the odd after-school job Frank has picked up, mother and son subsist on monthly disability cheques from the government.

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