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To Matt Havens, the growing number of U.S. COVID-19 cases announced daily looks a bit like a large wave, building as it looms overhead, poised to crash down on Missouri and Polk County.
Havens, a physician assistant at Citizens Memorial Hospital’s Butterfield Medical Center in Bolivar, said if that wave does crash down, he is worried local physicians, doctors and other health care providers might not be able to protect themselves.
Personal protective equipment, particularly the N95 respirator, a mask worn by medical professionals to protect themselves while seeing patients who may be infected with the virus, are in short supply.
Already, he said, he’s had to resort to reusing his mask between patients due to shortages.
“In an optimal world, we wouldn’t reuse those between patients, but we’re not living in an optimal world right now,” he said.
So, when Havens’ brother, Nick, an infectious disease specialist in Columbia, showed him 3D printer schematics he’d found online for a respirator, Havens said he knew he should pursue it.
“I wear my own respirator that I've been using since I scrounged it out of my garage,” he said. “I knew that when we get a big wave, the masks are gone for me and my friends.”
On Saturday, March 21, Havens passed the schematics along to another group of close friends, several of whom work at Bolivar’s Duck Creek Technologies and dabble in 3D printing.
According to a CMH news release, Havens collaborated with friends Keith Kelly and Matthew Winder. Other collaborators included Haven’s cousin Todd Morton from Rolla and other 3D printing group members Dennis Siegfried, Lucas Roberts and Darrick Hemphill.
“I'm not a 3D printer,” Havens said. “This isn't my realm, but I knew that I had several friends that were. They printed it. It failed. But, once we knew it didn't work, it became a conversation between several of us of, ‘Well, how do we make this work?’”
Kelly told the BH-FP Friday, March 27, he’d collaborated with Winder on 3D printer projects before. No previous work had been this impactful, though.
“When I saw Matt Havens’ plea for help and realized the urgency of the situation, the obvious next step was to text Matt Winder,” he said, adding “it has been really cool to use our shared hobby to help solve an actual problem.”
Havens said the group had a new workable prototype by Tuesday, March 24.
“They kept feeding video to my brother and I, so we could look at it and guide them,” he said. “We tested them by blowing smoke through them, and we were able to give them ideas of what to try.”
Havens said the group even ran a prototype mask through CMH’s own mask tests, where it failed due to issues with the gasket and airflow.
According to the release, the test ensures the “masks properly fit and protect medical staff from inhaling dangerous substances or viruses such as COVID-19.”
“We needed to increase airflow, because my breath would blow the mask off my face, creating a leak. This one failed,” Havens said. “But, in failing, it told me what I needed to tell these guys to be fixed.”
He said the group returned to the drawing board, this time coming back with two prototypes. Both passed the test, he said.
Now the group is working to get one of the products in the hands of local medical professionals, with help from CMH.
According to the release, the 3D printed masks are made out of thermoplastic and use PVC/rubber weather stripping, ¾-inch elastic bands and a HEPA filter.
“The advantages of using 3D printed masks are they are durable and can be cleaned with sterile cleanser between each use,” the release stated. “Also, the HEPA filters can be replaced easily when they become contaminated.”
The group’s current production capabilities mean each mask takes about three to five hours to print. They can produce about 100 per week, he said.
The successful design is also freely available online, he said, meaning it could protect healthcare professionals around the world.
“Due to the group’s efforts, we may have the opportunity to keep hundreds, if not thousands, of health care workers safe since the design will be freely disseminated,” Havens said in the release.
For more information and to learn how to help support the printing of the 3D masks, visit keithstestgarage.com/respirators/.