Manhattan student makes nearly 200 face shields for Bronx hospital

Sam O’Hara of the UWS makes face shields for St. Barnabas using a 3D printer.
Photo courtesy of Sam O’Hara

An Upper West Side student is doing much more than learning virtually. Sam O’Hara is making face shields for front line workers at hospitals, including St. Barnabas.

O’Hara is the captain of his high school robotics team and once used 3D printing to build a working 140-piece model jet engine, but he never imagined doing anything like this.

The 17-year-old got a 3D printer for Christmas and started off by making some toys for his sister. But when COVID-19 arrived, the youngster knew he wanted to pitch in.

“I just wanted to help the hospitals,” he told the Bronx Times.

Barnabas became a beneficiary because his parents Jonathan and Mandy are long-time friends of Dr. Janine Adjo, chair of the St. Barnabas Department of Pediatrics. Coincidentally, his pediatrician mother began her career at St. Barnabas before the two doctors ever met.

When he decided in March to help the medical community, O’Hara sought out Jake Lee, a Columbia University student and key figure in the charity NYCMakesPPE. After receiving printer files from Lee for an appropriately vetted face shield design, he began in making homemade face shields.

 

According to O’Hara, although his father bought two additional printers to help him create face shields, the process was not easy. At first it took him two hours to make one shield and a total of four or five a day. But eventually he got a system down.

“I could only print two at a time and they took 90 minutes each,” he explained. “This production rate wasn’t going to cut it. The PPE I make needs to be functional but at the same time, I’d like to cover, literally, as many healthcare workers as possible.”

There was also the issue of resetting printers after each batch finishes. This meant waking up every two hours nightly, which, when O’Hara started oversleeping for online classes, didn’t bode well with his parents or teachers.

“To solve this I explored several solutions, ranging from custom computer code that knocks face shields off the printer automatically and staying awake in shifts.”  The best idea, he found, was much simpler: stack the shields and print 20 at once. “I can now leave it on while I’m sleeping,” he said.

With help from his father, Jonathan, NYCMakesPPE and upstate retailer G & S Glass Inc., O’Hara has since recruited others to do the same. He has reached out to his robotic teammates and through a teacher at his school, fellow 3D aficionados on social media, to help the cause while following safety, quality and labeling guidelines.

In total, he has printed and distributed nearly 1,200 face shields to hospitals, ambulance corps and visiting nurses, 180 of which ended up at St. Barnabas Hospital, with more to come.

O’Hara, who plans to attend Purdue University in the fall with plans to become an aerospace engineer, said the cost of his supplies is relatively small. The plastic used to make 150 shields, for example, runs $20, with the biggest investment made in terms of his time.

“I’m disappointed big companies aren’t doing this,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense that a high school student is doing this.”

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