Helping Heroes Battle Covid-19

Helping Heroes Battle Covid-19 

Colleen Tabor, VC STEM Network

March 31, 2020

Residents have been using their 3D printers lately in Ventura County to create face shields for our health care workers. Emerging from the fear, anxiety, and feelings of powerlessness caused by Covid-19, citizens in Ventura County have joined together to collaborate on the construction of personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as PPE.  When confronted with the problem of insufficient quantities of PPE and more specifically, face shields, for health care workers at county hospitals, Dr. Phil Hampton and Alex Wulff used their networks to find the solution. 

Alex knew that Josef Prusa had made a face shield design available, through an open source file, which could be made using a 3D printer. A friend of Alex, Rick Rutherford, an ER doctor, asked him if he could make these shields. Alex gave him a couple of face shields to take to a meeting at the hospital. As Rutherford was in the meeting he texted Alex saying, “We need forty, scratch that we need four hundred, and then it was scratch that, we two thousand.”

About this same time Dr. Hampton was approached by a fellow colleague at CSUCI, Safa Kahn.  She informed him of the need for face shields at Ventura County Medical Center. Safa’s husband is a physician who works at VCMC. Recently he showed up at work and there were no face shields. He and a colleague had been gearing up to intubate a patient with Covid-19 and were pretty nervous. 

Face shields are needed in order to intubate coronavirus patients, and also when testing patients, to protect health care workers.  After hospitals and health care facilities use face shields they cannot be autoclaved, sterilized, because they melt at high temperatures. Therefore they cannot be reused. Dr. Kahn reached out to Dr. Hampton to see if the university had any 3D printers so they could print face shields for VCMC.

Alex thinks of the health care workers as soldiers on the front lines. These workers need protection against the enemy, in this case an unseen one. Even without protective gear, many of these health care providers are continuing to work.  “This is heroism to the highest degree,” Alex Wulff said. He continued, “It would be like sending a soldier into battle without a helmet and armor.” Yet here we are. It is unconscionable. Alex and countless others in Ventura county are now making face shields for our health care workers who are serving on the frontlines against the pandemic battle here in our community. 

Dr. Hampton then reached out to Alex Wulff. He came to find out that Alex had friends at VCMC and they had already built a prototype of the design and had been given approval to begin production.  A large group from the naval base had jumped on board, businesses like American Plastics, Fathomwerx and Matterlabs were donating supplies and offering materials at cost. And as Alex said, “I could give you fifty names and I would be leaving fifty more out. Because every morning I wake up to a barrage of emails in my inbox, people going ‘I have a 3D printer.  A lot of them are my former students, or people we have connected with through Phil Hampton’s network, the VC STEM Network. But a lot of them are people in the community who are like ‘yea, I wanna help, what can I do?”

In times of trouble, most people want to help but are not always sure how. “When there is a fire, you can grab a shovel or a bucket of water and you can start the fight.” Alex has facilitated a way for everyone in Ventura county to use their shovel and buckets. His house has been converted into a makeshift factory with his wife and children working right alongside him. The STEMbassadors are, “Twelve highly skilled middle and high school students from Ventura Ca who want to make a difference in the way STEM technologies are integrated into our schools.”  They and their families are working tirelessly to aid in this endeavor as well. 

“The STEMbassadors  have definitely taken the lead here. And I am astounded by how much work they are putting into this. I have kids that are showing up at my house every day, (we are social distancing but they are grabbing twenty or thirty or more face shields and taking them back to their house where they are cleaning and assembling them. They are doing jobs that are not fun like punching holes in rubber bands.  Nobody has an ego. Everyone is just being selfless and these kids are just leading the charge. I have another kid who everytime a 3D printer breaks I call him up, he drives over to the house, he brings it back to his house, fixes it and brings it back running again. We have two other kids who are running the website. They’ve set it up so we can take donations, cause we have probably spent 6k dollars and they’re also setting up cleverly on their own with all the links and resources that anybody could want to help us make these shields.”  Alex Wulff

The school that Alex works for, De Anza Academy of Technology and the Arts, was one of the first recipients of the Golden Gear Awards from the VC STEM Network. It was given to them based on the makerspace and innovative learning that Alex had created.  The STEMbassadors recieved VC STEM’s STEM Champion Award for the organization’s outstanding contributions to. STEM in Ventura County. The goals of the VC STEM Network are to inspire, engage, collaborate and educate through fostering relationships between the community, STEM professionals, businesses and corporations. 

The fire is not yet out, and we still need people to bring their shovels and buckets to the fight.  The unseen enemy of this global pandemic is still out there and we need to join the battle to defeat Covid-19 and win the war.  You can help by supporting our health care workers. At www.stembassadors.net you will find a donate link at the top of the homepage, donating now will help the health care workers on the frontlines. 

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