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“I think there’s no doubt that people are inherently good”

Local volunteers deliver nearly 1,000 3D printed face shields to protect health care workers

Volunteers in the Roanoke Valley 3D printed face shields, assembled the masks, and delivered them to Carilion Clinic to protect health care workers.
Volunteers in the Roanoke Valley 3D printed face shields, assembled the masks, and delivered them to Carilion Clinic to protect health care workers. (WSLS)

ROANOKE, Va. – A group of citizen volunteers are taking the fight against coronavirus into their own hands, working behind the scenes to protect nurses and doctors.

Health care workers at Carilion Clinic now have another defense against the coronavirus, thanks to the effort’s organizer Nathan O’Kane.

O’Kane, a Salem resident, saw a design for 3D printed face shields on the National Institutes of Health’s website. He thought that would be a great way to help out local health care workers, so he turned to the community for help. He posted on Facebook last week asking people with 3D printers to make headbands for face shields for doctors and nurses and more than 90 people volunteered.

“I had no idea that there would be this much support, especially that there would be this many printers in the area," said O’Kane. "But it really was a huge effort that spanned down to North Carolina, up to Lexington.”

Once the headband is printed, a plastic sheet like what’s used on overhead projectors can be attached using a three-hole punch. O’Kane worked with Carilion to get the design approved.

Saturday afternoon, O’Kane and some other volunteers, like David Sea, assembled and dropped off 915 masks.

“Very proud of every person, whether they printed 3 or 50. They really did a good job," Sea said.

Carilion’s Vice Chair of Emergency Medicine, Dr. Damon Kuehl, said the heartwarming gift is a game-changer for all health care workers.

“Nurses, techs, respiratory therapists, physicians," said Kuehl. "This is one thing that also preserves all of the other personal protective equipment that we use.”

The small army of volunteers is dedicated to helping those on the front lines.

“I think there’s no doubt that people are inherently good," said O’Kane. "3D printers are not like microwaves. you really have to watch them, make sure they’re running right, fix them, maintain them. And the filament is not free either. So, they’re stepping up financially, they’re stepping up with their time and i just think it’s a great effort everybody’s making.”

Printing the masks isn’t easy. In total, volunteers used 13 to 15 miles of filament -- the plastic material used in 3D printing-- and spent 4,500 hours printing.

The volunteers said they plan to keep making masks and help as many health care workers as possible. To get involved in 3D printing masks, contact the group on Facebook.


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