Mom365 Hero of the Week: Dr. Laura Stachel

It might sound like the mysterious Pulp Fiction suitcase that emitted a brilliant glow when John Travolta opened it. But the solar suitcase that California OB-GYN Laura Stachel carries will help her save thousands of women from dying in childbirth.

Stachel, who has 14 years of experience delivering babies in the U.S., was shocked when she visited Nigeria and witnessed doctors and midwives working by the light of unsanitary kerosene lamps. She even saw a ceasarean section performed with no electricity, in an inky darkness lit only by Stachel’s flashlight.

More than 300,000 health clinics worldwide have no reliable source of electricity.

No electricity means no clinic blood banks for mothers suffering childbirth complications. “It could take hours to find family members and test them to see if they had the right blood type,” Stachel told PBS Newshour. Many mothers bleed to death before a match is found.

Dr. Stachel emailed her husband, Hal Aronson, about the crisis. And he responded by creating the gold-colored solar suitcase, which Stachel was able to carry back to Nigeria with her luggage. The suitcase, which is lined with solar panels and LED lights plugged, converts sunshine into battery power. Open it, and it illuminates an entire room. Stachel says the solar suitcase decreased maternal deaths by 70% in one hospital.

Stachel and Aronson recently founded WE CARE Solar with a mission to promote dsafe motherhood. So far, the nonprofit has produced 160 solar suitcases made mostly with cheap parts that are easy to find. But the specially sized solar panels and unbreakable lights have to be specially produced: Total cost is $1,500 per suitcase. WE CARE now has solar suitcases in 17 countries and hopes to provide them to 300,000 health facilities woldwide.

Through WE CARE Solar, Stachel is now asking women to apply to be volunteer Solar Suitcase Ambassadors. Volunteers will receive intensive training before traveling overseas to install the suitcases and teach medical staff how to troubleshoot problems.

This week, we’re giving Dr. Stachel a Mom365 hug for bringing light to women in childbirth.