As COVID-19 cases in South Dakota continue to increase and health care workers face unprecedented shortages in personal protective equipment, University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine students are rising to the challenge by using 3D printers to create masks and other equipment.
Fourth-year medical students Tej Mehta and Caleb Heiberger, along with second-year medical student Lauren VanHove, competed in the Society of Interventional Radiology Biodesign competition earlier this year, where they learned how a 3D printer can create the critical components of a central venous line. Mehta said the competition provided them the background knowledge needed to help with the current crisis.
“When we learned hospital systems were short on personal protective equipment, we knew we could manufacture it for them,” said Mehta.
“We are tackling this problem because we believe in the power of 3D printing technologies. We hope that this effort protects patients and workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and demonstrates the flexibility, durability and reliability of 3D printing.”
Over the last two months, the medical students, who typically would have been in clinics themselves if not for the pandemic, have created over 1,000 masks using 3D printing to distribute to local South Dakota health care systems. This equipment can easily be decontaminated and reused, so it provides better, long-lasting protection and fewer need to be produced.
“Being in the military, I am aware of how important supply chains are to victory in any situation. A broken supply chain means a war lost, a hospital that cannot function or a person harmed when they otherwise wouldn’t,” said Mehta. “3D printing largely overcomes supply chain shortages because of its ability to rapidly and effectively transform base materials into usable products.”
Currently, the team is working out of labs at Augustana University and the GEAR Center, located at the USD Community College for Sioux Falls. They have distributed masks, face shields and mask tension release bands throughout South Dakota, including to Vermillion, Yankton, Sioux Falls, Rapid City and the Rosebud Indian Reservation.
“We are proud to have provided hundreds of health care workers with our protective equipment so far,” said Mehta. “Moreover, we’ve been able to do so entirely free of charge to hospitals and health care workers. We aim to keep this endeavor free of charge to those who need this equipment the most.”
The student-led team has asked for donations to cover the costs of creating the protective equipment through a GoFundMe® fundraiser.
“In taking on a project like this, many challenges arise, including design challenges, logistics, funding and more,” said Mehta. “But the individuals working on this project have contributed so much and the community has given an outpouring of support that we have and continue to overcome these challenges.”
You can learn more about the project and how to donate on their Facebook page.