A North Delta teen is helping make life on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic a bit more comfortable for staff at Lower Mainland hospitals.
For the last four weeks, 14-year-old Alex Charnetski has been busy pumping out surgical mask straps at home on his 3D printer and donating them to area hospitals. The straps go across the back of the head and hook on to the elastic straps on surgical masks, taking pressure off the back of hospital workers’ ears and easing the pain of wearing a mask for 12 hours in a row.
“Many nurses have complained about getting the skin behind their ears raw and chafed [from the elastic straps],” Alex said. “So these straps … will help make it more comfortable.”
Alex said he began printing the straps as a way to help out frontline hospital staff like his friend’s mother.
“I noticed there was somebody else doing this as well, a Scout in Langley, and I thought it would be really nice to help her out. They’re having a really tough time on the front line so I really wanted to help them out as a way of saying thank you.”
Alex, a Grade 9 student at Sands Secondary, is no stranger to 3D printing, using the technology to make components of his Canada-Wide Science Fair project — testing an ultrasonic sensor to see how its accuracy degraded when shooting it at porous material — when he was in Grade 7, as well as numerous other endeavours in and out of school since.
“Sometimes if something breaks around the house, I might try to 3D model something to fix it, and there’s a lot of school projects that I’ve used a 3D printer on. And people in my Scout troop (4th Surdel) I’ve made things for,” he said.
To make the straps, Alex used a model he downloaded from thingiverse.com and Cura, an open-source 3D printer slicing app, and once he’d tested it to make sure it would work on his printer, he was off to the races.
“It’s not too bad of a process once you get that all working.”
An hour and 40 minutes later he had six clips ready to go, no sanding rough edges or other finishing touches needed.
Alex donated the first few batches of clips he printed to his friend’s mom and her co-workers at Richmond Hospital.
“She was very thankful for them so I thought, well, I’m sure there’s other people out there that will need them just a badly as her, so I started cranking a few more out and seeing who needed them.”
So far Alex has made about 500 straps — he says around 50 are enough to supply a single hospital ward — and donated them to Delta Hospital, Richmond Hospital, Langley Memorial Hospital, Peace Arch Hospital and Surrey Memorial Hospital.
“Everybody has said that they really appreciate it and that it’s been really helping their ears. They said it’s nicer to wear the masks and they don’t feel like taking them off as much.”
Alex says he plans to keep making the straps and reaching out to other hospitals to see who needs them.
“I’ve got a lot of time on my hands, as everybody else does. It’s not really too much of a trouble for me to make them, it’s really nice to have the payoff of everybody saying, ‘Thank you so much.’ It’s kind of a symbiotic thank you, because these are kind of my gift to them for helping flatten the curve of COVID-19.”
Anyone interested in joining Alex in printing devices to help frontline health-care workers can find the strap design at thingiverse.com/thing:4249113.
“They’ve got amazing designs for 3D printing. It’s a great resource, and a lot of people are making new coronavirus-related models all the time, so it’s a great place to look.”
— with a file from Ronan O’Doherty