16-Year-Old Builds an Amazing Network of Makers to 3-D Print Masks for Hospitals
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
So wrote Fred Rogers, aka Mr. Rogers, back in 2002. And true enough, in the midst of the pandemic, I didn't have to look far to find a helper. Jerry Orans is a 16-year-old high school sophomore in my home community of Mamaroneck, NY, who is more than just helping: He is leading a movement of makers to get hospital workers the PPE they so desperately need.
We spoke on the phone about his passion project, Hack the Pandemic, and how you can help support this incredible grassroots effort to equip the first responders.
Dan Bova: What gave you the idea to do this?
Jerry Orans: I've been reading for a while about how all of these hospitals in the New York area don't have enough PPE or personal protective equipment to safely treat their patients, while also keeping other patients and the hospital staff safe. So I thought, well, that's not good! Then I realized that there are all these people at home in quarantine who have 3-D printers that aren't necessarily using them for anything. And there are all of these people who can sew and aren't necessarily sewing anything. So I was like, Hey, why don't we have them start making medical supplies? So I started on March 23rd and since then we've got over a hundred active makers and three global distribution partners.
That's incredible. How did you find the plans for the equipment?
The original that really helped me click with the idea was a 3-D printing company called Prusa3D. They made the original 3-D printable face shield design, and from there we've iterated and worked on a design that allows for faster printing. The original prototype from Prusa was actually approved by the Czech Ministry of Health and the FDA has validated that the design.
Did you imagine this idea would catch on as quickly as it has?
My original idea was to reach out to robotics teams. Our school, Mamaroneck High School, has one and there are 50-something robotics teams in Westchester County — none of whom are doing anything right now because the season was canceled. So things started to trickle in that way, and pretty soon it took off.
How did you go about getting the word out?
And then it really took off when I got in touch with the Larchmont-Mamaroneck STEM Alliance, which is our local nonprofit, and they were able to use their giant email marketing to get the word out and invite people to help and brainstorm. And now we are set up to accept tax-free donations through the STEM Alliance. I did some interviews with places like our local public access TV station LMCTV and other news outlets, but I have no marketing budget.
How many masks and shields have you been able to make with your network?
We have created about 500 shields, 20-plus intubation boxes, 1,000 Ear savers, and have an order in the works for 20,000 reusable face shields. Our main problem is that home machines are not built to operate at high-speeds around the clock, and that is why we are looking to find corporate partners who have machines and materials that they aren’t using to join us.
How can people help?
They can get in contact with us at our web site Hack the Pandemic or on Twitter @HackThePandemic and can make donations here. We’re looking for maker volunteers and also bigger manufacturing companies who can rent or donate us some space on their machines.
How does it feel to have started this movement?
It's great to be helping out hospitals and then to be able to actually hear from the doctors and nurses. I get messages like, “The hospital I work at was out of supplies and because you were able to give me 10 or 15 masks or shields, I'm able to keep treating patients.” It’s pretty awesome.