The Windward School Teacher Supports COVID-19 Hospital Relief Efforts Using 3D Printing

By Jana Cook

From the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., Emily Frawley, a science and social studies teacher at The Windward School’s Westchester Middle School, has found an innovative way to use her skills, as well as Windward’s 3D printers, to give back to the community. Ms. Frawley, who resides in Manhattan, has witnessed firsthand the challenges that first responders are now facing: many of her friends and family work directly on the front lines, as doctors, nurses, and EMTs in New York City. Some of them had been sharing troubling updates with her, that hospitals had resorted to limiting staff members to one mask per week. When Ms. Frawley read that medical professionals were beginning to fashion their own gowns from garbage bags, it hit her hard. She knew that she had to find a way to help.

“I was reading nightly updates from Mayor Roach in White Plains, and I saw that the White Plains Public Library had donated their 3D printer to a doctor in Yonkers, who was collecting them to print face guards,” Ms. Frawley explained. It occurred to her that she had the skills and resources to join this initiative.

Ms. Frawley tracked down the doctor on Facebook and asked him whether he’d be willing to send her the plans. As soon as she shared her idea with Jamie Williamson, Head of The Windward School, and Douglas Dalessandro, Coordinator of Science, they immediately gave Ms. Frawley the go-ahead to use the school’s MakerBot 3D printers for her efforts.

There was an initial hiccup—the plans from the doctor were too large for the 3D printers and weren’t editable. Undaunted, Ms. Frawley reached out to friends and soon discovered that the State University of New York (SUNY), in New Paltz, New York, was home to the nation’s first MakerBot Innovation Lab. Not only that, but they had been printing nearly 200 face guards every day. She obtained the plans from their website for a set that could be printed in multiple pieces and assembled.

As she investigated further, Ms. Frawley noted that there was a massive shortage of medical-grade masks, specifically N95 masks, which are standard for medical professionals. She found that The Billings Clinic has created 3D-printed face masks that may prove to be an equivalent product to N95 masks. The model is currently undergoing testing, but if it creates an airtight seal like N95 masks, it could meet medical standards. The mask has a removable filter frame, so the filter can be replaced and the mask sanitized in between patients. She determined that printing these masks may serve an urgent need.

Ms. Frawley contacted a few groups organizing donations of masks to see whether they could direct her to hospitals that need these reusable masks the most. “If possible, I’d love to get some of them to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, NY, which has been hit the hardest, and New York-Presbyterian Hospital. I’d also be thrilled to deliver them to hospitals in Westchester, too. As long as our first responders are getting taken care of, though, it doesn’t matter to me where they go.” In fact, Ms. Frawley did receive confirmation from David Deitsch, Director of Operations for Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, that Columbia is overseeing an 800-member donation site for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): They're accepting all donations of PPE, sorting it into FDA-approved and non-FDA equipment, and then delivering it to hospitals in the Columbia/Cornell and New York-Presbyterian network.

Ms. Frawley has most of the materials to print her designs in quantity immediately; however, there are a few supplies that have proven challenging to acquire. “As of right now, elastic seems to be sold out for individual purchase essentially everywhere,” she noted. Ms. Frawley reached out to a number of companies that are shipping free elastic to those who are making supplies for hospitals, but she hasn’t heard a response from anyone yet. She added, “I’m also looking into ordering elastic from companies that are not donating it, but they are only accepting bulk orders, so I’m amassing a team of other Makers like myself who are also printing these masks and can take some of that elastic for their own prints.” 

Halyard H600 surgical wrap, the blue material used to wrap surgeon’s tools, is another item that Ms. Frawley mentioned can likely only be obtained from medical facilities. She stated, “If used as a filter, it has been tested to be as breathable as N95 masks, is waterproof, and supposedly blocks 99.9% of particles, which would actually make it 4% more effective than N95 masks.” As it’s sold in 4 ft. by 4 ft. sheets, that means that a single sheet could produce 368 filters. Because all elective surgeries have been cancelled, Ms. Frawley noted that there is likely an abundance of this material currently going unused. Her hope is that someone within the Windward community may have access to this surgical wrap and be willing to donate it.

In the meantime, Ms. Frawley is forging ahead, and her Herculean efforts to locate resources have yielded the initial materials to create some completed products. “Beyond this week, though, I am still desperately seeking elastic and, more than anything else, the Halyard H600 surgical wrap for the filters,” she said.  

During this unprecedented challenge faced by our New York community, our nation, and the world, we all struggle with feeling a loss of control. But people like Ms. Frawley demonstrate that it can also be an empowering time, full of opportunities to act. “[We can] think to ourselves, ‘what skills do I have that could contribute to a solution, and what resources do I have around me that can help?’ And then tinker around with the ideas that pop into our heads, instead of convincing ourselves they’re too ambitious, or that they wouldn’t make an impact.” Ms. Frawley continued, “We’d be shocked what we come up with."