Blue Valley grads help people ‘Swipe’ confusing hospital hallways

Sophia Porter just graduated from the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy and is looking forward to college at Johns Hopkins University in the fall — but not before she gives a digital gift to Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Porter and a group of students affiliated with the Blue Valley School District’s Center for Advanced Professional Studies program have developed an app called Swipe that will help people navigate the hallways of the hospital.

Even though it sounds simple to make your way through a hospital, for stressed-out families, it can be confusing and overwhelming.

For Porter, the app is a personal way to give back to Children’s Mercy, where she has been treated for Crohn’s disease since she was 7.

“I would often come back to the same places over and over again (in the hospital, as a patient) and still forget where they were,” Porter said.

Porter and her team have been working on the app for two years.

Dr. Hussein Haideri is a mentor with the CAPS program. He offered to mentor Porter after watching her demonstrate an elevator pitch, a quick sales pitch about herself, to a group of students — even before either of them knew what her project would be.

“If you have Sophia on your side, success is almost guaranteed,” Haideri said. “Sophia’s led the foundations, but we need to keep building on it.”

Haideri helped Porter make the professional connection with the hospital.

Porter looked into current health apps that are available but didn’t find any that helped patients navigate a hospital.

Although Porter is the project’s leader, she has had a team of people help develop the app.

Kai Marshland, 17, from El Cerrito, Calif., met Sophia at a summer physics camp and became the app’s lead programmer, even though he’s not part of CAPS and doesn’t live in Kansas City.

Also on the team were 18-year-old Zachary Belcher and 19-year-old Quynn Scaramucci, both currently students at the University of Kansas, and Mahroosa Haideri, 18, recent graduate of the Barstow School. Another friend, Brandeis University student Carmi Rothberg, designed artwork for the app’s wallpaper.

One of the hurdles for making the app was that Kai was writing code on a PC, but Apple requires that apps released through its store be written on a Mac. To meet the requirements, Kai wrote computer code, then sent it to Porter to compile and check for bugs on her Mac.

“You can’t use a GPS inside of a building,” Porter said. “We needed, when a patient got lost, for the app to know where they were, which proved to be a challenge.”

To do that, the team took a map of the hospital and programmed in landmarks, such as room numbers or departments, so that patient can type in what they see on a wall near them. That way, the app will be able to tell where they are and what the best trajectory is to their destination.

Another bump in the road was getting an Apple developer license, a process that’s geared more toward a business. To get that, you have to provide all kinds of information that a group of students isn’t set up to have, but Porter said that the CAPS program stepped in to help.

The app is not ready for consumer use yet, but Porter and her team hope it will be in the near future. Although all the team members will be in college next year, they’re confident that new students can carry on their work and help make the app a reality for patients of Children’s Mercy.