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Beating heart disease one meal at a time

Muhammed Fazeel recalls the helplessness he felt when his father fainted and had to be rushed to the hospital eight years ago.

“I had no idea what was going on,” Fazeel says.

Though his dad recovered, Fazeel never forgot the heart attack patients who filled the ICU that day.

“How could I help if I had the chance to go back?” he asked himself.

Fazeel, 24, earned an emergency medical responder license, worked with the University of Illinois’ emergency medical services and graduated from UIUC with a degree in integrative biology.

Now, he is raising money on crowdfunding site Indiegogo to set up a pilot study at two medical clinics — one on Chicago’s South Side and another in Champaign that together serve 8,000 needy people — to see how a prototype diagnostic system works inside the clinics.

The system, to be sold to free medical clinics for around $1,000 each, consists of a chest strap that sends EKG data to a smartphone. The smartphone uses algorithms from Fazeel’s company, Chicago-based Benecure, to tell a doctor a patient’s heart condition on the spot.

The issue has become increasingly urgent, as a report issued Sept. 3 shows: More than 200,000 Americans who died from heart disease or stroke in 2010 didn’t have to, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fazeel wants to help people with heart problems take better care of themselves with an app and an online support group to help them combat common struggles with anxiety, depression and high blood pressure. On Indiegogo, heart attack survivors and people with high blood pressure pay $1 for the app and support system, while early adopters pay anywhere from $15 on up.

The app would let people punch in the foods they eat and see how much salt and nutrients they’re ingesting. Data from sources such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture would appear in graph form to help people stay within their daily limits in real time.

“It helps you figure out what you can and cannot eat,” Fazeel says. “There are many great apps out there to help people lose weight. It wouldn’t make sense for this app to do only that.”

Benecure aims to raise at least $25,000 and 100 supporters via Indiegogo by Sept. 30.

Tough to beat

The cardiac monitoring solution is considered the holy grail of predicting a medical emergency, experts say, so the rivalry to produce it will be intense as established health care companies pursue the same goal.

The U.S. market for remote cardiac-monitoring devices and services is set to jump 27 percent by 2016, to $867 million, as companies seek to cut expenses by reducing the need for patients to stay in the hospital for lengthy periods, according to IHS InMedica consulting firm.

“Trying to address heart disease is not easy,” Fazeel says. “And trying to set up a company to deal with it is not the smartest thing to do. But I’ve set up a team of people smarter than me to help accomplish our goal.”

ABOVE: Muhammed Fazeel, photo courtesy of Lemelson MIT