WOOD RIVER JCT. — Just months before graduation, three Chariho seniors who would normally be cruising to the end of the school year found themselves designing and producing medical devices that are helping local hospitals save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, when hospitals were scrambling for ventilators for COVID-19 patients, Chariho Tech engineering instructor Jeffrey Domingoes decided he would pitch in and do what he could to help. Domingoes asked three of his senior students to design three devices that are now in use at the South County and Westerly hospitals.
Using the school’s 3-D printer, students Preston Simpkins, Lindsay Pride and Riley DeCourcey produced three devices: a splitter that makes it possible to connect two patients to a single ventilator, an adapter for ventilators to allow the use of hoses of different diameters, and a manifold for orthopedic hoods, or surgical helmets, that converts them into personal protective equipment.
The splitter, a simple Y-shaped piece of plastic, can have a huge impact, doubling a hospital’s ventilator capacity.
“It plugs into a ventilator and then they can connect hoses to each side, so now they can have two people on one ventilator,” Domingoes said.
Domingoes explained that the second device, an adapter, also boosts a hospital’s capacity because it allows ventilators to accept differently-sized hoses.
“If the ventilator takes a 15-millimeter hose, we made an adapter, so now we can take a 22-milimeter hose, because they only had so many hoses and they were concerned that they were going to run out of the hoses they needed,” he said.
The third device is a saucer-sized manifold for orthopedic hoods.
“They found that the face shield was fogging up so they made this manifold,” he said. “It attaches to the helmet and it pumps in air and it extracts air out of the other side. So it just keeps air circulating so the mask doesn’t fog up.”
Westerly Hospital anesthesiologist Dr. Glenn Brady said the hospital had already worked with Chariho on the hose splitters and adapters, so when the hospital needed manifolds for the hoods, it contacted the school again.
“The folks here at Westerly and L+M engineering knew who reach out to, and they reached out to the team at Chariho to see if they could partner with us on the construction of this,” he said.
Brady said the modified hoods give greater protection to providers.
“We wanted to come up with a way to filter the air, to protect the physician and nurse or [physician’s assistant] that’s wearing the hood,” he said. “The Chariho team and us partnered with a design from Duke University to create a 3-D-printed manifold that allows us to funnel filtered air through this protective surgical hood … It has a lot of intricacy to it, so it’s not a plate. It has two hose manifolds that control where the filtered air system comes in through, so there’s high efficiency filters that are attached to that manifold, and then the manifold itself is assembled together with a gasket into the existing Stryker orthopedic surgical hood.”
The adapters were equally critical, Brady said, when the hospital received 36 ventilators from the state but couldn’t use them because they didn’t have the right parts.
“This part for the LTV ventilator is a small cylinder,” he said. “It’s about ¾ inch in diameter and about an inch and a half long, Of all crazy things, this funky cylinder is produced and manufactured by Respiratory Therapy Company nationally but it was back-ordered. So when we had this supply of ventilators show up on our doorstep from the State of Rhode Island, and we were grateful to get them, we were lacking these disposable pieces and we reached out to the greater healthcare community to order them and they were unavailable. So Chariho was able to build what to us would seem like a very unimportant little piece, but without it, the whole system kind of falls apart.”
Domingoes’ three students said the project had been as rewarding as it was challenging.
Riley DeCourcey, 17, of Ashaway, said the team had to overcome the additional challenge of not being able to meet in person.
“Since we were all stuck at home, we kind of just talked and reviewed notes together,” he said. “Mr. D actually said the hospitals were using them already. It’s pretty cool that we get to help save lives. Great. Anything to help the situation that the world’s in right now.”
Lindsay Pride, 18, lives in Westerly.
“We were really doing something that would be helping the community, doing something that was important to the safety of others,” she said. “It just felt really good to be helping out.”
“When I was first given the assignment, I was like ‘okay, this is actually something I have to really put effort into,’” said Preston Simkins, 18, of Richmond. “Using the software that was available to me, it was a little bit more tricky to figure out, but we all figured it out … All I know is, it’s going to a good place. ... If they need me again, I’m here.”
Brady said it was good to know that members of the community were ready to step in and help.
“Clearly, there’s talent at Chariho,” he said. “Talent and willingness and generosity and when the need arises, it’s nice to know that there’s a community there to support you.”