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Charlotteans take up challenge for health care workers PPEs
Studentís idea leads to partnership vs. COVID-19
Published Thursday, April 2, 2020 2:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Charlotte MEDI is mass-producing protective masks for health care professionals treating COVID-19 patients.

Charlotteans have created a grassroots effort to support the #MillionMaskChallenge.

What started as Dr. Seungjean Chai and his wife Dr. Janie Chai discussing their concerns about the supply chain for personal protective equipment, or PPE, for healthcare workers based on how quickly they were going through them, turned into their daughter Katie sparking an idea that has unified people from varying backgrounds.

Seungjean is a specialist in medical oncology at Atrium Health and the President of the Medical Staff for Carolinas Medical Center and Mercy and Director of Medical Operations for Levine Cancer Institute. Janie is a pediatrician with Novant Health Pediatrics SouthPark.

“They were talking about their concerns in front of their daughter, and she said, ‘this is the class I used to take at Charlotte Latin in the engineering program and we can 3D print PPE,” explained UNC Charlotte’s Alex Cabral of the School of Architecture.

That conversation took place on March 17. Katie contacted her teacher, Tom Dubick, Charlotte Latin’s FabLab director, and by March 20 the first prototypes were printed. The following day, members of Charlotte Latin, UNC Charlotte and community members formed Charlotte MEDI (Medical Emergency Device Innovation), the grassroots group undertaking the effort. 3D printers were up and running around Charlotte by March 22. They established a GoFundMe to support the project, meeting their goal in 12 hours. They have since increased the goal to $125,000, with $90,138 raised as of March 31.

On March 23, they delivered the first 30 shields to local hospitals. As of March 29 they began working with local manufacturing companies to produce the shields.

 “Tom is really good friends with Dr. Terence Fagan, who is an engineering professor at UNCC, and is also one of my really good friends,” Cabral said. “When Terence got involved, I got involved, and Terence knew that I had a bunch of equipment in my lab in the architecture department that was just sitting idle at this point, because all of our classes were online. We just had a bunch of equipment sitting there.”

The group continues to grow, including members of UNCC College of Arts and Architecture such as Heather Freeman, Thomas Schmidt, Robby Sachs, Joshua Tarbutton of the College of Engineering; David Wilson and Johana Okerlund of the College of Computing and Informatics. Dr. Azalea Kim, who is chief of staff to the chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, and a primary care physician and medical director for Applied Health Data Science and Strategy for Duke Forge, Duke University's Center for Health Data Science, and Duke Health Technology Solutions, is also part of the project. Anna Chai, an Emmy Award-winning director, is interim COO of Charlotte MEDI.

“Over the past week, we have worked with a small group of our designers, to design a piece that can go to injection molding,” Cabral said. “The injection molder is allowing us to produce much higher quantities. Our 3D prints were taking about two and a half hours per part. The injection molder can do two parts every 40 seconds. We can increase our capacity by incredible amounts of numbers and produce much more. We started that over the weekend. We are producing 6,000 per day, and we are hoping to be at 40,000-45,000 per week in the next week.”


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