Cohen Champions Treatment, Technology
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
March 10, 2014
Abby Cohen was looking for a problem to solve.
Two years later, she’s potentially only one more year from helping relieve a medical dilemma faced by 25 million Americans.
And the most impressive part might be that she graduated from high school a mere five years ago and is 23 years old.
Cohen, a 2009 MHSAA Scholar-Athlete Award winner as a senior at Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood, certainly could be called proactive, going back to her days as a volleyball, basketball and soccer standout for the Cranes. Less than a year after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., she’s co-founder and co-CEO of Sparo Labs, which seeks to provide asthma sufferers with a proactive way of monitoring their symptoms and improving their treatments.
“Everyone has a different perspective on how to go about doing things,” Cohen said. “For me, growing up trying to improve in sports, I’d write down a list of things to do every day and actually do them, follow through. That aspect of always wanting to get better, and improve, is something that’s carried through to the rest of what we do at Sparo and in general how I approach things.”
On March 22, the MHSAA and Farm Bureau Insurance will recognize a 25th class of Scholar-Athlete Award winners. In advance of the celebration, Second Half has caught up with some of the hundreds who have been recognized (see additional links at the bottom of this page).
Cohen, who also served on the MHSAA Student Advisory Council from 2007-09, chose Washington based on its strong engineering problem and successful women’s basketball program. She studied bio-medical engineering and was a freshman on the Bears team that defeated Hope College for the Division III national championship in 2010.
But that first season was followed by a series of ankle injuries that required reconstructive surgery – and, effectively, ended her collegiate sports career. She still can play pick-up games, but four-hour daily practices and the other commitments of a varsity program would've been too much.
She missed basketball. But the end of her competitive career on the court, as it turned out, allowed more time to dive into a new pursuit – and, in her words, “work with another kind of team.”
“I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason,” Cohen said. “It was disappointing having to have surgery to make everything feel better, for the long term, not just basketball. For me at that time, I didn't appreciate that with the extra time I could have, I could take the time to try new things, make the world a better place.”
Cohen planned at first to eventually become a physician. She shadowed a number of doctors, but decided that in the long run she could have a greater impact as an engineer designing products physicians could use.
In addition to her classwork, she helped form an extracurricular entrepreneurial group – and set out for an issue in need of repair. She and her now-business partner Andrew Brimer didn't realize how many Americans are affected by asthma, “that respiratory diseases are the only ones getting worse over time rather than getting better. That although technology is improving, why it’s not making a dent.”
They set out find out and make that dent themselves.
Through a series of interviews with patients, doctors, respiratory therapists and others in the field, Cohen and Brimer got an idea what could help – an affordable, easy-to-use device to allow patients to monitor on their own their symptoms so they can better manage them and the treatments to help. Cohen and Brimer designed a device that plugs into a smart phone and allows patients to blow into it like a whistle and register lung function readings – while also collecting data on medications, pollen counts, and other variables that affect lung function. Their device also should dent the health care costs that go with current testing, which generally requires an office visit.
Sparo will work over the next six months to improve its app interface and user experience, and then submit for Food and Drug Administration approval at the end of this year or the beginning of 2015 – with the hope it will then become available to patients later next spring.
Cohen is based in St. Louis, where she and Brimer have been able to work with three large local hospitals and within a nurturing entrepreneurial community. Brimer's brother owns a tech education company in New York which has provided additional support as she and Brimer discussed what was possible. “We were talking to patients and physicians, and it just seemed like the right thing to do,” Cohen said. “If we weren’t going to do this, who was?”
Cohen and Brimer have won 9 of 11 entrepreneurship grant competitions they've entered, netting more than $300,000 to get their lab rolling and allow them to hire two more engineers. Long-term, today’s work could just be the start of what Cohen hopes eventually will reach into developing countries as well.
She remains in touch with a number of teachers at Cranbrook-Kingswood – also, her mother Sheila Cohen teaches sixth-grade math at the school – and she spoke there at the end of 2013 as part of a TEDx event.
As she continues to build her team, Cohen is reminded of additional lessons she learned on the courts and soccer field – including a major one that will continue to pay as Sparo expands.
“Learning how to work on a team, with really different personalities, different people who all play different roles,” Cohen said. “That really came from sports – the ability to work with people and reach one common goal.”
Click to read the series' first installments:
- 25 Years Later, Scholar Athletes Shine On
- On Call as Doctor, Director, Mom
- "Mailloux Management" Goes Global
- Goorhouse Gives Back at Home
PHOTO: Abby Cohen (10) helps her teammates hoist a trophy while a player at Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Cranbrook-Kingswood.)
Performance of the Week: Macomb Dakota's Gracie Maloney
May 12, 2023
Gracie Maloney ♦ Macomb Dakota
Junior ♦ Softball
Maloney struck out 21 batters – for every one of her team’s outs – in Dakota’s 9-1 victory over Grosse Pointe North on May 1. She gave up only two hits and also hit a home run for the Cougars, who are ranked No. 1 in Division 1 in the latest state coaches association poll. Maloney is one of only 13 pitchers in state softball history to strike out 21 or more hitters during a seven-inning game.
Also a third baseman, Maloney started last season’s Division 1 Final at that position and threw an inning of relief as well as Dakota finished runner-up to Allen Park. She also plays basketball, and has committed to sign to play softball at University of North Texas. She’s considering studying sports management there as she aspires to become a college softball coach.
@mhsaasports 🥎 POW: Gracie Maloney #softball #strikeout #strike #performanceoftheweek #homerun #dakota #macombdakota #cougars #MHSAA #highschoolsports #tiktalk #interview #TikTok #mistudentaid #fyp @gracie ♬ Beat Automotivo Tan Tan Tan Viral - WZ Beat
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MHSAA.com's "Performance of the Week" features are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
May 4: Braxton Brann, Ann Arbor Huron track & field - Report
April 27: Owen Patton, Vestaburg track & field - Report
April 20: Lilly Damm, Millington softball - Report
April 13: Larissa Huffman, Mackinaw City track & field - Report
April 6: Darius Acuff, Detroit Cass Tech basketball - Report
March 23: Regan Finkbeiner, Hemlock basketball - Report
March 16: Alaina Yaney, Grand Ledge gymnastics - Report
March 9: Braeden Davis, Dundee wrestling - Report
March 2: Gabriel Sanchez-Burks, Ann Arbor Pioneer swimming - Report
Feb. 23: Grace Sobczak, Marquette swimming - Report
Feb. 16: Kaitlynn Demers, Gibraltar Carlson competitive cheer - Report
Feb. 9: Indya Davis, West Bloomfield basketball - Report
Feb. 2: Braydon Sorenson, Onekama skiing - Report
Jan. 26: Shayna Hruska, Iron Mountain wrestling - Report
Jan. 19: Kayla Tafanelli, Warren Woods-Tower bowling - Report
Dec. 20: Brenden Paden, Riverview Gabriel Richard hockey - Report
Dec. 16: Tuff Scott, Holton bowling - Report
Dec. 9: Macey Fegan, Standish-Sterling basketball - Report
Dec. 2: Treyton Siegert, Gladwin football - Report
Nov. 24: Lily Witte, Dexter diving - Report
Nov. 17: Navea Gauthier, Shelby volleyball - Report
Nov. 10: Derek Huisman, Holland Christian soccer - Report
Nov. 3: Thomas Westphal, New Baltimore Anchor Bay cross country - Report
Oct. 27: Justin Wickey, Colon football - Report
Oct. 20: Owen DeMuth, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood tennis - Report
Oct. 13: Mia Melendez, Ann Arbor Greenhills golf - Report
Oct. 6: Shawn Foster, Grand Ledge football - Report
Sept. 30: Hannah Smith, Temperance Bedford swimming - Report
Sept. 22: Helen Sachs, Holland West Ottawa cross country - Report
Sept. 15: Nina Horning, Lake Orion volleyball - Report
Sept 8: Arturo Romero, Muskegon Oakridge soccer - Report
Sept. 1: Austin King, Midland Dow tennis - Report
Aug. 25: Olivia Hemmila, Troy Athens golf - Report
PHOTOS courtesy of the Maloney family.