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Mask Maker

Amy Peterson-Millis, RN PPACU, works in the recovery room at Flagstaff Medical Center. This is where patients wake up after being intubated for surgery. They are often coughing. “This puts us at a high risk for droplet transmission,” she explained.

Her co-worker Jamie Reisner, RN, BSN, CCRN, is the interim clinical manager of the pediatric intensive care unit. “Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, healthcare workers were used to wearing masks; however, very seldom would we need to wear them for the entirety of our shift.”

Peterson-Millis and Reisner are like many healthcare professionals in the danger zone every day on the job in the battle against the new coronavirus. They’ve also worked under the strain of knowing there’s a limited supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to keep them safe while potentially sharing their space with a highly contagious pathogen. And, the elastic from the N95 surgical masks they’ve worn for hours digs into their skin.

Concerns about the safety and comfort of healthcare workers had been weighing heavily on Flagstaff drone pilot and owner of LightForce Media Chad de Alva. A month ago, he wondered if he could help by putting his engineering skills and 3-D printer to work. He researched how to make PPE from reputable sources like the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And then, he began to order plastic, called filament, after he used up what he had at home.

“It struck me as the right things to do,” he said. “I was furloughed from my day job in early April and thought, ‘Here’s a way I can help get the world back on its feet.’ We had the means to do it and now I’ve got the time.”

“When Chad first approached me about making these items I almost cried,” said Peterson-Millis. “This is such a difficult time for those of us in health care and to have someone not in health care come to me and ask what he could do to help, it felt tremendous.”

De Alva and his wife, Bethany, a CPA, began to produce face shields and a device they call an “ear saver,” which holds the straps from a surgical mask off of the back of the wearer’s ears. Peterson-Millis and Reisner became models and consultants for the new PPEs, which have progressively become lighter and more durable.

“There is a shortage of washable face shields and ear savers,” said Peterson-Millis. “After 12 hours of wearing an elastic-eared facemask, my ears really hurt. The ear savers are a welcome addition, especially during a 12-hour shift. Unlike cloth versions, I can easily wipe them down and use them over and over. The face shields used in conjunction with gowns, N95s, goggles and hair covering make me feel a lot safer when dealing with COVID positive and suspected COVID positive patients. I like that I can just thoroughly wipe the shield down and use it again.”

De Alva was inspired by the success of the designs and posted a crowdsourcing call on Facebook:

“To help our healthcare professionals out, we’ve started up an operation to 3-D print as much PPE as possible. We’re printing Faceshields and Ear Savers as fast as we can, but we need help to do more.

Currently, we’re printing the Prusa USA RC3 faceshield. This faceshield is made from PETG, which means that it can withstand sterilization and multiple uses. The Ear Savers are being printed from PLA, and they’re used to keep the straps of surgical masks off of the wearer’s ears. We’re asking for donations to help cover the things that we can’t provide ourselves. We need to purchase more PETG and PLA filament, more elastic and or paracord for headbands, and more plastic sheets for the actual shield part of the faceshield, and shipping costs as we’re sending items all over the country.”

He was overwhelmed by the response. “This is a thing. It’s got legs!”

The demand and donations exceeded de Alva’s expectations. He ran his two 3-D printers around the clock to produce plastic parts while messages of gratitude began popping up on social media from people like Sarah Ramsower Bartelt, who posted, “Thank you Chad and Bethany!! My mom and her fellow Respiratory Therapists at YRMC in Prescott Valley, AZ THANK YOU!!!!”

The de Alvas now are shipping face shields and ear savers to all edges of the continental United States, from California to New York and from Arizona to Montana. With more than $4,300 in contributions and another printer on the way, the de Alvas believe they will be busy producing face shields and ear savers through the summer.

“I believe every hospital everywhere is in need of PPEs,” he said.

As the production continues, Peterson-Millis and Reisner remain grateful. “Some days, it was the best part of my day when I got to offer ear savers to healthcare workers and see their faces light up like they were receiving a gift on Christmas!” said Reisner. “It is a feeling that I wish I could bottle up and give to Chad and all of those who donated so they could feel the joy and gratitude of their work. A big thank you to Chad and his team for helping keep our healthcare workers safe and comfortable!”

To find out more or to make a donation, visit facebook.com/donate/623909641498545/. FBN

By Bonnie Stevens, FBN

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