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An Entrepreneur’s Relentless Positivity and a Life Changing Product (Part One) – 226

There are so many inspiring stories from entrepreneurs that from time to time, they can blend together. This is not one of those stories. 

Today on the AM/PM Podcast, Tim Jordan speaks with Shavini Fernando, the founder of OxiWear. Shavini is a video game, VR & web designer and developer. But, more importantly, she’s the inventor of a device that she developed to help those diagnosed with severe Pulmonary Hypertension (PH).

Shavini suffered through multiple situations in which her heart stopped as a result of a sudden drop in her oxygen levels, necessitating that she use self-CPR to revive her own heart.

After several near-death experiences, she invented OxiWear as a tool for herself and the larger PH community. 

She received her second Master’s Degree in Communication, Culture and Technology from Georgetown University and is currently completing an Executive Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship through Stanford University.

Her invention and new venture have led her to win awards from Ted Leonsis, Citi Ventures, and Georgetown University, which awarded her the Exceptional Masters Student Award for 2019.

Her attitude of positivity and resilience must be heard to be properly appreciated. 

This is part one of a two-part series detailing her story. I promise you that this is one (two, actually) you don’t want to miss. 

In episode 226 of the AM/PM Podcast, Tim and Shavini discuss:

  • 03:50 – Shavini’s Origin Story
  • 06:00 – Cardiac Arrest Levels Up Her Health Concerns
  • 08:30 – Next Up – A Hole in Her Heart
  • 10:30 – A Trip to John Hopkins Hospital and a Stroke 
  • 14:30 – Getting Back to “Normal”
  • 18:00 – Looking for a Technological Solution 
  • 22:00 – Designing a New Device 
  • 24:00 – Staying Positive  

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Tim Jordan: Today’s episode is a little bit different than what we normally do on the AM/PM Podcast. We’re going to listen to a pretty lengthy story about this person’s life. Our guest Shavini Fernando, who has some incredible insight based on some incredible experiences that she’s had. You’re going to love this episode. It’s extremely motivational. It’s extremely thought provoking. Stay tuned.

Tim Jordan: Hi. I am Tim Jordan and at every corner of the world, entrepreneurship is growing. So join me as I explore the stories of successes and failures. Listen in as I chat with the risk takers, the adventurous and the entrepreneurial veterans. We all have a dream of living a life, fulfilling our passions, and we want a business that doesn’t make us punch a time clock, but instead runs around the clock in the AM and the PM. So get motivated, get inspired. You’re listening to the AM/PM Podcast.

Tim Jordan: Well, this episode is going to be a big one. It’s two parts. It’s a long story, but there’s a ton of information here and a ton of things that we can glean. This guest had a medical condition that really hampered most of her childhood and even young adult life and hearing the story about how that happened, why that happened, how she overcame that. And then most importantly, seeing and understanding and hearing her positivity is massively valuable. I was so inspired listening to part one of this episode that I let her introduction to her story go on way too long, maybe not too long, but very, very long. So, we’ve created one episode that you’re going to watch right now where we talk about her story, and the kind of inspirational values and lessons that she brings us about positivity and keep on going essentially. And the second part of this series, we’re going to actually talk about her product, which is OxiWear. OxiWear was a product that she designed with no experience, no know-how, no engineering background. And now in 2021, they’re going to be launching this as a medical device. She talks about how she found resources to come up with a little money to get started, how she started working with advisors and boards of directors and how she started working with free resources, really to help her pull this off. Both parts are incredibly powerful, maybe for different reasons. So I hope that you’ll stick out both of these sessions in this series and gain some incredible value from it. Let’s get started.

Tim Jordan: Hey, everybody, welcome to another episode of the AM/PM Podcast. Today, we’re going to talk about medical stuff, which a lot of times seems super, super complicated to a lot of us that aren’t in the medical industry, but for context, we’re going to be talking about the development, the implementation, the marketing of a new medical device, which I’m actually kind of excited to talk about. For our guests today, we have Ms. Shavini Fernando coming to us from the great state of Virginia. How you doing, Shavini?

Shavini Fernando: Good. And thank you for having me.

Tim Jordan: Yes, ma’am. So, when I started reading the story about this product, that you’ve developed, you’ve invented a we’ll talk about that and how it could be a game changer to the industry. I was very intrigued by it.  I think that it’s exceptionally cool, but I’m not necessarily just intrigued by the product. I’m also intrigued by your journey, right? Because you have some sort of obvious medical knowledge. You have some sort of tech ability of some sort, but you also have this kind of entrepreneurial bug, which made you decide, Hey, not only do I have this cool idea, but I’m going to bring this sucker to the market and it’s going to be awesome. So I want to talk about how all of those intersect, but to start off, we have to know a little bit about Shavini, like who is Shavini, where does Shavini come from? I want like the five minute story of how Shavini ended up today on the AM/PM Podcast, sitting in Arlington, Virginia from Sri Lanka. So, give us like the five minute background of you.

Shavini Fernando: So, I’m originally from Sri Lanka. And I have studied computer science. I have my undergrad degree in computer science. Then I have master’s in computer science, an MBA, both from Australia. So, but I am literally a hippie. You can call me a hippie. That’s what I was before. And because I love traveling. I love– I’m an adrenaline junkie. I love all of these high adrenaline sports and I used to travel a lot. And so that was literally me from small days. I had breathing issues, but it was diagnosed as asthma. I have literally tried everything that’s available in the market. So– because every time I go to a doctor, they just keep changing my inhaler. They didn’t bother to do a second diagnosis as to why this was happening. So I have been on inhalers, like all my life and at least every other week, I used to go to nebulize in the middle of the night because I couldn’t breathe. So because of this, like even though I was a sprinter, my best less hundred meters, I couldn’t do 200 because after a hundred, I start feeling like tired because my heart couldn’t take it because I– there’s a hole in the heart that I had from small days. So, but the thing is I didn’t get done most for the hole in the heart. I got diagnosed last month.

Tim Jordan: Let me pause you for a second. For those of you that aren’t watching the YouTube version, like Shavini is so happy, she’s smiling. She’s like joyful and I’m like, I want to cry for you. Poor Shavini, this great, great swimmer can’t do the 200 meter because you’re out of breath. I’m thinking of all of these useless puffs of the inhaler that are supposed to help you, that aren’t helping you like this plague, you childhood, this misdiagnosis of your medical condition. And it’s sad. It’s terrible. So I’m sorry that happened to you.

Shavini Fernando: I started getting palpitations, like suddenly like randomly it’s like my heart rate goes, like just spikes up. And so I had two episodes that I couldn’t breathe. And now I know what happened was it was cardiac arrest that I had. I didn’t know then.

Tim Jordan: Wait, hold on. Time out, time out. You just said, I couldn’t breathe, later found out it was cardiac arrest. Shavini, cardiac arrest is a big deal. Your heart stopped working. This is terrible.

Shavini Fernando: I think that’s why I’m so good at it now because you’re like, it’s just like your common sense now. I know exactly what I’m supposed to do because it has happened so many times before. The thing was, every time it happened, once I go to a doctor, all I can say is I couldn’t breathe. There was so many like diagnosis, like what? It was all not relevant. And then in 2015, I went hiking with a friend and then I was going blue. And he was like, you’re turning blue. The thing is when your face turns blue, unless someone tells you, you don’t know it, right. And then I went back home. So with my parents, I said, okay. He says, there’s something wrong with the heart and what I was getting, they will not have petitions. They will arrhythmias. So this is what he said, like, so he said to go to a doctor. So, we took an appointment and went to a cardiologist. He listened to my heartbeat. And then he was like, I need to do echo, but stay in the echo room because I want to do it myself. And so I was waiting and he came, just doing the echo. So I could literally, like I could see on the echo, it was like the Indian traffic, like everything’s going right in the heart. Like blue, red, everything’s getting mixed. And he was like this, like he was doing the echo like this.

Tim Jordan: So when you’re, when your doctor’s doing an echocardiogram and his hand is on his forehead, that’s not a good thing.

Shavini Fernando: Yeah. He was like this. And he was doing the echo and I could see like, and I was like– so I literally asked him, is there a hole in the heart? Is that what mine looked like the Indian traffic. And he was like, do you know to read this? I’m like, I think it’s like common sense when the blood is mixing everywhere, there has to be a leak, right?

Tim Jordan: Yes, exactly.

Shavini Fernando:           And he was smiling. He said “If you get dressed and come to the office, let’s have a chat.” And then we went to the office. So he was like, did you have breathing issues when you were small? I said, yeah. My mom was like, yeah, every other week we used to nebulized. And he was like, didn’t anyone say that she has a hole in the heart. And my mom was like, when she was small, the pediatrician said he could hear mama. But when we took her to the cardiologist, the cardiologist said, there’s nothing like that. Just don’t take all these unnecessary things to your head. Just let the kids enjoy her life. Then I went and then they did a right heart catheterization. And, then they’ve been doing it. Literally my heart stopped. So they had to rewind me and like, get me back when I asked him all these questions. So he was like, literally the Sri Lankan doctor who did the procedure. He was like, so it’s like this, the news is very bad. And I was like, how bad? And he didn’t say like much. He was like, well, there is no treatment, but you can stay a bit longer with the medicine and then like, hold on. And then like, you will have about maybe two years. It was like, okay. So you’re telling me I will live just for two years. I was like, look, I have so much in my bucket list that has to be completed. And you can’t tell a person that they will live only for two years because not you, not me, no one knows how long a person gets to live. And I went back into wheels and I will say hi to you. And then I told my on let’s just leave. So then my sister said, okay, I’m going to get an appointment at John Hopkins. So let’s get you here. Then exactly on my birthday, October 11, I flew here. And then I came here and I went to John Hopkins because I flew, I ended up with a stroke.

Tim Jordan: Wait, what? You’re saying it like, it’s a joke, but it’s so you get, you just had a stroke?

Shavini Fernando: Yeah. So I ended up in, so I was at John Hopkins and they were doing echo. And then I ended up with AI. And so literally often they echo. So I asked her, do people feel funny on their face? And she was like, no, they don’t. I feel funny on the face. She was like, it must be from the whole thing procedure, just doing body. And my sister was seated there. So I took my t-shirt and I put it on my head. That’s all I could do. My hand just fell off. Like it just fell out. I literally felt like a mummy stuck. You can see anything, but you can’t move your eyeballs. And that was it. I could see my sister screaming and then I passed out. So when I woke up in the, after the stroke, like I could see the entire director board of the hospital standing around me. And they were like, rubbing my hands and screaming my name. Can you hear me? Can you hear me? It was funny. Like how all these VIP people standing around you and I was just laughing and the doctor was like, okay, she’s smiling, she’s laughing. She’s good.

Tim Jordan: This is so bizarre to me. I worked as a paramedic for 10 years and I’ve seen a lot of medical conditions. I’ve worked a lot of cardiac arrests. I’ve worked a lot of strokes, but I can tell you. And I even had some legit saves, you know, where people were clinically dead and we did CPR and got it back. I can tell you that not a single one of them was ever smiling after they regain consciousness. So, I’m pretty sure that the doctors thought you had just gone completely crazy by this point.

Shavini Fernando: And then I’ve been off the bed, they were like, can you hear me? I’m like, I can hear you. And then they were like, can you– they asked me to press the hand, but I didn’t have, like my left side didn’t have that full strength. So then they asked me to– they’re like moving me to the John Hopkins, Bayview ER. And then when I went there, like everyone was asking questions. I was answering them and smiling. And they were like, you’re the first patient who came to ER, smiling. So I ended up in the John Hopkins ICU for three weeks. Before they discharged me, I had to do a walk test and I couldn’t walk. I was athlete, but I couldn’t walk 500 feet. I was turning blue. So I was put on continuous oxygen. And they said, “we have to see how it reacts, otherwise be prepared for both lungs and heart transplant.” And what happened was because they did that invasive test. My whole body got disturbed because my body had come up with its own system to support my lifestyle. But when they went and did a the invasive test, it got completely disturbed. And that’s why I knew my– it’s like when you get used to a new environment, when you move from one country to another country, you need to get adjusted to the new environment. So it’s like, that might– you know they’re capable. It’s just the time to get back to them normally. So what I did was in the passage, in the apartments, I started walking in the day, like trying to get my lungs and heart to like function again the normal way. And then when I went for my six month test, I actually walked 900 feet. And then in six minutes, and then off the first, the first year I walked off for six months, I walked thousand and 100 feet. And now I walked 1,900 feet, six minutes. So I kept like doing everything. And I kept increasing my heart and lung function. And so I didn’t want to, so then after that I went and bought a portable oxygen concentrator. And then I was like, okay. I used to be a workaholic and I was not ready to sit at home and just, you won’t be trapped because of this. I was like, okay, I need to get out and do– start living my life again. Maybe I can’t fight freedom, but I can restart here. So then what I did was the best– see, even though you are qualified in US, it’s hard to find a job. So then the only option I had was, again, let’s study again. So then I got, I applied to Georgetown and I got admission to do masters at Georgetown. So what I did was I started a third master’s degree, I guess that was the only option to get my life back. And then I started studying. So, because I was a workaholic and say, my expertise is in project management then software development, so I worked four jobs, I worked for the office of deans. I worked for the maker space and I work on four departments on there with development and marketing, advertising materials, designing. And then in the evenings, I worked at the maker space because I loved all making stuff and doing stuff as the operations coordinator. So in summer, when I was working suddenly, like I was working for this school of foreign service program, for the summer internship. So as a programs officer, and then I got a call, so now I was not on oxygen at all times. I only brought it when I needed. And then I went to answer the call because my director was not there. And then when I was coming back, I literally felt like I couldn’t breathe. Like how it was before. I felt like my heart was not going and then I couldn’t breathe it off. And then my friend walked in and she was like, your whole face is blue. And then I figured like I couldn’t breathe. So first thing I did was I quickly went, luckily I carry my oxygen everywhere, even though I don’t need it. I put my oxygen on, crank it up to four liters. And I knew the drill because it has happened before. At that time only I realized, okay, all this time, they have a cardiac arrest, not just my chest. So I hit my chest, jumped on the same spot. And my friend was like, what am I supposed to do up there? Just call 911. But then out of that whole thing happened, the doctors and John Hopkins and everyone was like, you can’t live alone. Because at that time I was living alone. I moved in to my own apartment and I was doing everything on own and I was living alone and just literally I started my life back. And then they were like, you should think about changing the school because Georgetown is the most hilly school in the area.

Shavini Fernando: You should find a school which doesn’t have many hills. And I’m like, no way. I’m not changing Georgetown. I love that school. And they were literally questioning my independence and they were asking me to go back to where I was when I moved to US and I was not prepared for it. I bought like all the wearables, everything. And I was like, okay, I have this. They will work. Then the doctor was like, no, your problem is your blood oxygen. It drops down so drastically. He was like, you’re literally like a person living in Tibet. You can function with the most 50% oxygen without problem. You don’t feel it. Physically, you’re fine. But the thing is at that time, sometimes it comes back, but sometimes it doesn’t come back and you have no learning until you end up with a stroke or you end up with a cardiac arrest.

Tim Jordan: Let me time out and recap for a second. So, you were trying to live independently, but you are obviously having some pretty serious health problems. I mean, you’re having strokes. You’re having– your heart stopping because your blood oxygen levels dropping so low that your organs would just cease to function. Right. And what the doctors were telling you was that you needed to monitor this. You’re talking about Fitbits, like Fitbits will monitor heart rate, but they don’t actually monitor your oxygen stat. They’re not monitoring perfusion and things like that. And for you, the problem wasn’t your heart rate or your blood pressure necessarily. It was your oxygen levels in your blood were too low. And for those of you that like don’t understand the very simple version of how your heart works. And this is very applicable, is your heart receives blood from the rest of your body that the oxygen has been removed. And then it pumps it through your lungs where your blood is re-oxygenated and then your heart pumps it back out into the rest of your body. But when you have, like Shavini was saying, like the roads in India, like nobody’s staying in their lanes, everything’s mixed up. So the oxygenated blood from your lungs is getting mixed back in with the deoxygenated blood that’s coming from the rest of your body. And that highly oxygenated blood is not being delivered efficiently. Did I say all that right, Shavini? I think I did. So, essentially there was nothing on the market that would help you monitor your blood or your oxygen level correctly. Now, like when I was a paramedic, we had those little things that clipped onto in your fingers. Now they’re bulky, they suck, you can’t walk around with those stupid things. And honestly, they’re not very accurate. And in a different scenario, as you lift your arm up, you lift it down. Your hand gets cold. You’re positionally. Like you can sit with your arm in a funny position, like on the, of an airplane seat and it will drop, but the rest of your– the core of your body’s fine. There was a problem. 

Tim Jordan:                       Let me pause for a second. We’re going to have to do something I’ve never done before. Normally when I ask people’s like origin story of what they get into, we take five minutes, but your story is so interesting. You’ve died multiple times, Shavini and you’re laughing about it, which I think is amazing. I love your positive spirit. I don’t want to minimize your story because the background story is amazing, but we don’t have time to keep going in this episode. So what I’d like to do, if that’s all right, is I would like to go ahead and close out this episode and I’d like to get with you and schedule a follow-up episode. And the episode, the next episodes– we’ll have like a part one and part two of Shavini, right, is I want to talk about OxiWear, which is the company that you’ve started. And you’re obviously a smart cookie, right? So you took all these capabilities that you got 72 master’s degrees on. And what I think the story is going to evolve to is that you have a condition that other people have similar conditions that have other similar needs. You couldn’t find a solution to monitor your blood oxygen level while maintaining an active lifestyle. Right? You needed something. So I’m at a fast forward and say that the end of the story is that you designed and basically invented a new medical device that would do that. Right? And you, you did that based on this need that you have. So in the next episode, what I’d like to do is I’d like to talk about OxiWear. I’d like to talk about how you invented. I’d like to talk about the marketing process, like to talk about how you’re launching this, how you’re getting approval. That’s a whole another episode that I want to talk about, but I have to ask you this, like, as we wrap up this episode, look, you’ve had some crap going on in your life, right? Even stuff you haven’t talked about, just moving around, just being told, Hey, you’ve got a hole in your heart. You got two years left to live. Well fine, I’ll go to the US and you move over. And you know, you’re spending three weeks at John, I mean, like, there’s so much that you didn’t talk about, but like I’m picking up on it.

Tim Jordan: And it’s stuff that other people, well, that all of us, that humans would find very, very discouraging, right? Like extremely discouraging. And you have been slapped down and beat down. A lot of times you’ve been told you can’t do it, but you just keep getting up and doing it. You keep moving. And what I’m most impressed about, honestly, it’s just this positive attitude. As we wrap up this episode, I have to ask you this, and this can be very general, but you’ve had all this crap that’s happened to you. And you’ve been told no, all your life. You’ve always had these restrictions. You’ve always been told you can’t do this. You shouldn’t do this. We won’t let you do this. How do you take that? And not only turn it into something valuable, like a business opportunity, something you can do to help others, but how do you stay so freaking positive?

Shavini Fernando: Well, see my whole life. I think it’s because one thing is– so I’m Buddhist, right? So, something that we were taught when you were small is it’s like size that we’ve got in school. So even though I’m Buddhist, I studied in a Catholic school. Right. But in Sri Lanka, even though you studied in Catholic school, or the Buddhist kids. So one thing that we were taught when he was born is to think that you’re sick continuously. Okay. I’m sick, I’m sick, I’m sick. And then you actually fall sick. Right? Because your body works based on your thought process.

Tim Jordan: Yeah. And your mental habits can affect you physiologically. Sure.

Shavini Fernando: Yeah. Because if you’re thinking on negativities and you only feel like a magnet, right. That’s how I think. You’re like a magnet, right? So you’ve shown negative. You attract all the negative ones. When you feel positive, you attract all the positive ones. Right. And they say like, your line attracts your tribe, right? So it’s similarly like that. So for me, my whole life, I’ve been a person. If things have happened in life, just move on and you can’t change them back, like, what’s the point of all worrying about the things that has already happened. If there’s a time machine where you can go back and change them, okay fine. And if nothing is going to fix them, fine. But otherwise what’s the point in worrying about those. Because something I always thinking, don’t burn your blood over things that you have no control of. Because every time you worry, you burn another pint of blood in your body. Right. So, long as I knew what taken things in life seriously. So, I’m someone who lives for the day and plan for tomorrow. If things went wrong, okay, fine. It went wrong. But move point of pride over, it just went along, live your life. Something we think is, if things didn’t go the way you want, that’s not because you know that it was not meant to have them because something better is on the way. That’s how I look at it. Right. And it’s a good example. Like say, if I didn’t get diagnosed with this, I wouldn’t have met OxiWear. Right? So, things in life, all these happened for a reason. And the other thing is, none of us knows when we will die. Right. I might die tomorrow maybe by falling off this chair, not from my daisies.

Tim Jordan: Just don’t do it on camera. If you’re going to die by falling out of your chair, let’s turn the recording off first, because that would make the whole episode get, because we still got to do a second episode, Shavini. You can’t die before the second episode.

Shavini Fernando: My life is dramatic enough. I don’t think I need that episode. Dying falling off a chair.

Tim Jordan: Dying on a webcam. Yep. Amazing.

Shavini Fernando: And so, you’re worrying about what might happen tomorrow because we don’t know right now what might happen, you might just well live, enjoy life while you got it. Why worry about things you have no control of because the more you worry, you get old, you get wrinkles.

Tim Jordan: So, I can’t tell you how thankful I am for you to share your story. I know you’ve shared your story with other people, and I know you’ve talked about this a lot, but I’m certain that those that are listening to this episode are grateful for your positivity and your optimism and you’re tying that all into some life lessons at the end is so important. I love what you said about, I even wrote it down here, negative attracts negativity and positive attracts positivity. So, you being positive is helping you in a lot of ways, but also I love this, we don’t know when we’re going to die. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. All right. We have to wrap up this episode. Those of you that are listening, prepare for episode two, as soon as we’re done recording, I’ll figure out the schedule, Shavini when we can sit down and do that. But on episode two, we’re going to talk about the brainchild that came from all of this adversity, OxiWear, but again, thank you for sharing your story and thank you for sharing your outlook on life. And I mean, these last like 10 minutes have just been full of knowledge bombs that are applicable to everything, whether it’s our health, whether it’s our business, whether it’s our family, everything. So, thank you for sharing that with us. Those of you that are listening. If you found any value in this episode, make sure to leave us a positive review on whatever podcast platform you’re listening on. Give us a thumbs up on the video if you’re watching this on YouTube. And we’re going to sign off momentarily and we will see you guys on episode two, the follow-up episode with Ms. Shavini Fernando from OxiWear. Thank you guys for listening. We’ll see you on the next one.