Remembering a hero: East mid-year graduate inspired by late cousin for senior project

Columbus East graduate Brea Hunter poses for a photo with a portrait of her cousin U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathon Hunter at her home in Columbus, Ind., Friday, January, 3, 2020. Sgt. Hunter was killed in 2017 while serving with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan. Sgt. Hunter's death inspired Brea to develop a more affordable hemostatic agent like QuickClot, which is used by the military. Mike Wolanin | The Republic

Seventeen-year-old Brea Hunter had always considered serving in the military, but she admits she was never serious about it until, at 23-years-old, her cousin, U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathon M. Hunter, was killed on Aug. 2, 2017 in the line of duty.

U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathon M. Hunter, a 2011 Columbus East High School graduate, was just 32 days into his first deployment to Afghanistan when he was killed in an attack on a NATO convoy near the southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar.

Brea Hunter was just preparing to enter her first year of high school at the time, still four years away from having to determine what she wanted to do with her future. Still, immediately following her cousin’s death, she knew what she had to do.

She graduated in December from Columbus East, having completed her high school degree one semester earlier than her peers. She moves to Bloomington this month to start school at Indiana University, where she plans to study pre-medicine and military science, in addition to enrolling in the school’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program.

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But before she could receive her high school diploma last month, Brea Hunter had to complete a senior project, a requirement of all Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. seniors prior to graduation.

A couple months after her cousin’s death, she began researching online about the equipment used by military medics. At the beginning of her junior year, she said Staff Sgt. Thomas Revolt spoke to her class about the different equipment used by Army medics.

“He subtly mentioned that QuikClot was overly expensive and that they could rarely implement it into their training,” she recalled. “I fed off the idea that maybe I could do an innovation of it, but I wasn’t sure exactly how I could do it.”

QuikClot is a soft, white, sterile, non-woven gauze which contains kaolin that quickly clots blood to control and stop bleeding when applied to an open wound.

Over the next several months, she spent hours thinking about ways in which she could create her own version of QuikClot. Beginning in May 2019, she would go on to log more than 65 hours building up her knowledge about chemicals used by QuikClot and its competitors that coagulate blood. She also researched chemicals to create a biodegradable capsule for the gauze.

Over time, she collected lists of formulas to determine how each chemical would react with one another when combined.

Upon completing her research, she first created a biodegradable capsule with calcium lactate and sodium alginate through a process called reverse spherification. The process is used to enclose a liquid containing calcium content.

When the liquid is dropped into an alginate bath, the liquid draws itself into a spherical shape and is encapsulated by a gel-like membrane.

After the capsule was formed, she said she injected a pure kaolin and zeolite mixture into the capsule and tested its effect on three types of blood — two simulated bloods and one pigs’ blood — all at 250 milliliters each. She said the simulated bloods had the same viscosity, or thickness, as real blood.

“I simply did that by bursting the capsule into the blood and mixing it in,” she said. “I had coagulation in all three bloods within under 60 seconds, but the pigs’ blood, in all three trials, coagulated within 15 seconds.”

Following the first three trials, she completed five more trials using the pigs’ blood, starting at 350 milliliters and working her way up to 750 milliliters. In all eight total trials, the coagulation time was similar, around 15 seconds each.

For a visual representation, she created a ballistic gel leg and ran an IV tube to represent the femoral artery. Hunter’s father, Aaron Hunter, shot the leg model with an AR-15.

She presented her project to school officials on Dec. 10. In her senior paper, Hunter argued how military expenditures could be more efficient and how cost-effective alternatives could be explored.

“The biggest thing for me was the five trials of the pigs’ blood confirming that the coagulation time was similar during all the trials,” she said. “The first time I saw a coagulation of blood, I was really surprised and ecstatic that it worked and that I could create something like that.”

Brea Hunter spent about $800 of her own money to fund her senior project. She raised that money by working two jobs over the summer, all while also completing her second semester of her senior English class in order to graduate mid-year.

Most of the work was completed in Brea’s father’s at-home office. Little did her parents, Aaron and Melissa Hunter, know the depth of their daughter’s project. They just did what they could do to make room in the refrigerator for her supplies.

“I had no idea the depth she was going into until I sat there and listened and watched her present,” Melissa Hunter said. “I was really floored. I’m not surprised because she worked so hard. She’s dedicated and determined. I honestly had no idea.”

Aaron Hunter said his pride for his daughter intensified when he realized the scope of her project.

“She did it all without asking for any assistance,” Aaron Hunter said. “She would ask me every once in a while where to find something, but it was more a step in the process than it was to actually assist.”

Since making her project public following her presentation, Brea Hunter said it’s been discussed by several people across the community.

“I don’t see it as that big of a thing,” Brea Hunter said. “I see it as something I set out to do and I accomplished it. I feel as if I was just following the senior project rubric, but I had a different inspiration than my peers did.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Meet Brea Hunter” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Name: Brea Hunter

Age: 17

High school: Columbus East High School

Career aspirations: U.S. Army doctor

Family: Aaron and Melissa Hunter, parents; Aaron Hunter and DaShawn Hunter, brothers