By Irvin B. Harrell

When the going gets tough, the tough sometimes roll up their sleeves.

That's at least what Assistant Professor Brittany Samulski and her husband did when they realized that area health-care providers were short on personal protective equipment (PPE). There have been shortages of PPE worldwide as countries struggle to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brittany is a faculty member in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program in the School of Rehabilitation Sciences at Old Dominion University. Her husband, Chris Samulski, is director of business intelligence and analytics at Arbela Technologies, Inc., an Irvine, Calif.-based software company. He leads a group of consultants that helps manufacturing, biotechnology and other industries leverage their data to make better business decisions.

Putting their heads together, the Samulskis have been using their 3D printer to produce face shields for local healthcare workers from their home - and donate them free of charge.

"We both work from home now, so we start a print and go in to restart it every three hours," Brittany said. "We managed to print 20 face shields on the first day of full production."

The couple's concept has caught fire. They organized a group of local makers through Facebook contacts and have 10 3D printers running.

"We were contacted by 757 Makerspace (Thursday) to be part of a greater coordinated effort to get supplies to our frontline medical professionals," she said. "We are working on getting the design approved by Sentara and other medical PPE groups."

Also on Thursday, researchers at ODU's Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center (VMASC) offered to join the Samulskis' printing group, Brittany said.

The Samulskis have been 3D printing since 2013. Brittany got Chris his machine in 2018, which is an original Prusa i3 Mk3. The creator of the printer, Joseph Prusa, is one of the leaders in Europe for 3D-printed face shield design, Brittany said.

Chris was connecting with others who have 3D printers on his usual forums and YouTube videos, and thought it looked like a cool idea, Brittany said.

"I was seeing a bunch of my friends (nurses, therapists, physicians, physician assistants, emergency medical technicians) who were complaining about re-wearing PPE," she said. "I even heard about nursing staff who were wearing swim goggles as PPE. I thought, 'We can do better for these folks who are sacrificing to take care of our friends and family during this pandemic.'"

So the two developed a prototype within 12 hours that would meet the needs of the area, using designs from Italy and from Prusa, who is from the Czech Republic. Chris blended the two designs resulting in a shield headband that can be printed in less than an hour per shield. Four shields can be produced on an average printer in 3½hours.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends use of face shields as an additional barrier to normally disposable PPE, such as n95 respirators, surgical masks and cloth masks, Brittany said.

"This design of shield is NOT intended to be primary PPE without eye or mouth protection," she said. "Our masks can be cleaned in up to 10% bleach solution safely and reused."

The Samulskis' mask-making group consists of friends Eric Rohlfs, Jim Setzer, Kevin Griffin, Sam Ross, Sharon Rome, Jessica Prebor (an ODU kinesiology and rehabilitation student) and Jessica Suedbeck (a faculty member of ODU's School of Dental Hygiene). They are also partnering with Beau Turner at 757 Makerspace.

"We are also working with Sentara Infection Control to get the design approved for use," Brittany said. "If the hospitals want modifications to the design, then we will work to make those. The current shields would also be great for people working in food service and grocery stores. We will find a home for them to help keep our community safe."

Local health-care outlets have been extremely receptive. Sentara Healthcare, which is asking for fog-free face shields, asked Brittany to drop off one of her masks last Thursday for the hospital to look over. Chesapeake General told her to email the hospital as soon as they were ready to donate. And Brittany's Lake Taylor Transitional Care Hospital contact is asking for 100 masks.

"Right now, we are hoping to put out 1,000 this week in our small group. We plan to distribute them equally among hospitals, then move on to skilled nursing, home health and outpatient facilities, then on to food service workers and cashiers at grocery stores," Brittany said. "We will continue to produce them as long as we have the necessary materials and a need."

By the way, the Samulskis sourced materials to make the face shields from Amazon, JOANN Fabrics and Crafts and Virginia Public Schools.

"The schools gave us old transparencies," Brittany said. "Remember the overhead slides from the pre-PowerPoint era?"

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