By Patricia Salber

I got some amazing news this morning.  My friend Laura Stachel, MD, founder of the nonprofit We Care Solar and amazing social entrepreneur, was just named as one of this year’s Top 10 CNN Heroes.  This is big!  But with your help, it can be even bigger.  If she wins the popular vote (and by the way you can vote for her once every day from now until Sunday, November 17 at 11:59pm PT) , she could become The Top CNN Hero of 2013.  With a bit of help from you and your friends, we can put her on the top on the nationally televised CNN Heroes broadcast on December 8. But time is of the essence.  Let me introduce you to this amazing hero.

Laura Introducing the first solar suitcase to Nigerian colleagues

Laura Introducing the first solar suitcase to Nigerian colleagues

Laura is an Ob/Gyn.   She went to medical school at my alma mater, University of California San Francisco.  She also got an M.P.H. in Maternal and Child Health from University of California, Berkeley and is a DrPH candidate there.

In 2008, Laura went to Northern Nigeria in 2008 to study ways to lower maternal mortality in state hospitals. What she saw there was shocking – cesarean sections being conducted by flashlight and nighttime deliveries taking place in near darkness.  Without electricity, critically ill patients had to wait for hours or sometimes even days for life-saving procedures.  Needless to say, the outcomes were terrible – people were dying because of a lack of electricity – something we in the developed world simply take for granted.

Instead of just bearing witness to this problem, this experience spurred Laura to action.  She wrote to her husband, Hal Aronson, a solar energy expert back home in Berkeley, California. Together, Laura and Hal co-founded We Care Solar to improve maternal health outcomes in regions without reliable electricity.

Hal created a suitcase-sized prototype of a proposed larger hospital solar electric system so Laura could show Nigerian hospital workers the LED lights, headlamps and walkie-talkies planned for deployment. When Laura returned to Nigeria with the prototype, her Nigerian colleagues began using it to charge headlamps and walkie-talkies. They also started telling clinicians in outlying health facilities about the wondrous “solar suitcase” they were using to provide light and charge devices.  These clinicians begged her to bring solar lighting to their own clinics, too.

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As word of the innovative power solution spread, Laura and Hal began receiving requests from clinics and health workers around the world, including medical relief teams in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. They started with volunteers, and eventually pulled together a team to bring Solar Suitcases to scale.  Currently, there are just over 400 Solar Suitcases in 25 countries around the world, and We Care Solar has partnered withWHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, and many NGOs. Plans are also underway to expand existing regional programs in Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Malawi.

Laura, Hal and the staff of We Care Solar are dedicated social entrepreneurs who are literally shining a light in the darkness to help make the world a better place.  I am so glad that Laura has been named one of the CNN Heroes as she is certainly one of my heroes.   Help her win big by voting for her early and often (remember, you can vote daily).

So, please take a moment to VOTE and also send the link to this post to ten (or more) of your friends.  Thanks!