George Mason University

Pioneering Research

Mason is...Driven to Serve

Environmental portrait of Mahsa Layazali

After a winter 2015 trip to Guatemala, where she helped repair and maintain medical equipment, Mason alumna Mahsa Layazali hopes to return to the country one day to do that work full time.

Trip to Help Hospital Triggers Desire to Return

When Mahsa Layazali and her co-workers received the skin grafting device to repair, it needed a thorough washing—it had just been used during a dermatological procedure.

The blood and remnants of skin didn’t bother Layazali, but she did wonder how the surgeon, now without a key piece of equipment, completed the procedure.

“He was skilled,” she says. “He found another way.”

Layazali and three classmates spent three weeks maintaining and repairing medical equipment in Mazatenango, Guatemala, and the experience was transformative for the bioengineering major, who graduated this past December.

“I’d really like to live there,” she says. “I just feel, in general, that country needs help, and they are open to people who try to help them.”

“I’m not surprised,” says Claudia Borke, Layazali’s academic advisor. “She was so touched. She had some experiences that really changed the way she’s going to walk down her life path.”

“I really felt like we made a change. I will never forget the smiles on the faces of the doctors and nurses when the machines started working.”

— Mahsa Layazali

Layazali came to the United States in 2008 from Iran, where she said she was prohibited from attending college because of her Bahá’í religion. Sponsored by her uncle, she joined her sister, Malahat, who had emigrated previously and graduated from Mason in 2006 with a management degree.

It was her sister’s recommendation that helped push Layazali to Mason after two years at Northern Virginia Community College. Layazali’s husband, Saman Refaei, transferred from NOVA to Mason in the spring as a management major.

“It was a good choice for me,” says Layazali, who is considering medical equipment repair as a career. “It worked perfectly.”

And enrollment in Mason ultimately led to the trip to Guatemala, arranged through the Engineering World Health organization and the Bioengineering Department in Mason’s Volgenau School of Engineering.

The hospital had equipment donated from the United States, but had few manuals explaining their use. With a semester’s worth of training through her Bioengineering World Health class, Layazali became part of a service and repair shop, fixing things such as patient monitors and surgical suction devices. Basic manuals in Spanish, created by her bilingual classmates, were left behind.

Layazali said she plans to return to the hospital, at least as a volunteer.