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Md engineers turning breast pumps into ventilators to help hospitals during shortage

Posted at 5:37 PM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-02 19:20:19-04

ST. MARY'S CO., Md. — It's no secret. There is a nation-wide shortage of medical supplies like face masks and ventilators, causing a panic as the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow.

A group of Maryland engineers is getting creative to solve the problem: using 3D printers and even breast pumps to make face masks and ventilators that can be used in hospitals that are running out.

"The FDA actually approved the emergency use of medical devices including positive pressure devices modified for use as ventilators and that’s when our idea of a breast pump came into play," said engineer Rachel Labatt.

Labatt is one of four engineers working to transform breast pumps in ventilators. They are working out of the University of Maryland's TechPort in St. Mary's County. It's usually an incubator for drone companies but with the change in businesses models for social distancing, and demand for health care equipment, it's become a hotspot for engineers working to create hospital equipment.

Director Tommy Luginbill said some have already 3D printed face shields and face mask frames. The breast pump ventilator is still in the prototype phase.

They are working to reverse the air flow and add programmable circuit boards to make them compatible for each patient.

"Our end goal is to get ventilators to hospitals to save patients," said Labatt.

They only started a week ago and have gotten lots of donations as they work to get the design FDA-approved before sending the instructions out so other people can replicate the model and help patients nationwide.

"Right now around the world, there are doctors that are having to decide between person A and person B and which one is going to get the ventilator so they are essentially deciding who gets to live and how gets to die, so rather than have our doctors here in the US having to make that decision, they want to make sure that they don’t actually have to get to that," said Luginbill.

If you'd like to donate a breast pump, they are accepting drop-offs at TechPort, located at 44185 Airport Rd in California, MD. You can leave your pumps in a clean bag outside at the door of the building for no-contact drop off.

They are also looking to consult with a pulmonologist and have access to a bio-medical lab to run some tests to get the FDA approval, as well as a company that can produce printed circuit boards to make the machines more sturdy. Contact them at breastpumpvent@gmail.com.