Help in a Crisis

From transporting shields to making 3D ventilators, county helpers lend a hand

Oakland County Executive David Coulter thanks the pilots from the Pontiac-based Michigan Seaplane Flight School who flew four planes to Muncie, Ind., on April 3 to pick up over 12,000 medical face shields for Michigan health care workers.

To find comfort in a scary situation, Fred Rogers famously advised — quoting his mother — to look for the helpers.

Folks who are upset by the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit southeastern Michigan especially hard, might take Mr. Rogers’ advice and find reassurance in the variety of ways people are helping in Oakland County.

From pilots flying in shipments of personal protective equipment (PPE) to a pair of brothers who used computer skills and their 3-D printer to build an experimental ventilator part to those who are digging into their pockets for meals for workers on the front lines of the emergency, people are stepping up across the county to help.

Here are stories of just a few of them:

Oakland Airlift

Local pilots, on their own time, have been flying small planes in recent days to Indiana to pick up supplies of face shields made by a company that normally churns out automobile parts.

Calling the pilots “local heroes,” County Executive David Coulter was at Oakland County International Airport on April 3 to send off a few of them with words of praise and encouragement.

“This is the spirit that I think so many of us are feeling,” Coulter said during brief remarks broadcast via Facebook Live. “I’ve heard examples like this all over the county of people pitching in, doing what they can.”

One of the pilots is Cran Jones, a co-owner of Michigan Seaplane Flight School. Jones worked with Mursix Corp., in Yorktown, Ind., in March to quickly design a prototype face shield that was adopted by area health care workers just as rapidly.

“Within basically two hours, working with my company in Indiana, Mursix Corp., we came up with a prototype, sent it to local hospitals here, and within two hours were asked, ‘How many and how fast?’” Jones told a Facebook Live audience before his April 3 flight.

The pilots leaving that day were to pick up more than 12,000 shields, according to a county press release, and drop them off at Willow Run Airport for distribution.

The area’s general aviation community has responded enthusiastically to the call, Jones says, noting, “We’ve now been making flights to pick up these shields as fast as possible.”

The pilots didn’t expect compensation in exchange for their missions.

“They just took their own initiative and decided there was a need they could help fill,” Coulter said.

Jonah Robbins, 11 (left), and brother Joshua Robbins, 16, with the prototype ventilator part they printed with a 3D printer they received as a Christmas gift. The part, if approved by medical professionals, may allow up to four coronavirus patients to share one ventilator in the event of a ventilator shortage. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Futrell Evans

Printing a Prototype

In Clarkston, brothers Joshua and Jonah Robbins, 16 and 11 respectively, responded to a call of a different kind. Their mother had heard there was a need for someone with a 3-D printer who could build a part that would allow a ventilator to be shared by several coronavirus patients struggling to breathe.

Within a few hours, the boys had received an email with a schematic of the proposed part, downloaded it, tweaked it a bit and sent it to the QIDI printer they had received as a Christmas present. They produced three prototypes, one of which was quickly in the hands of medical professionals for evaluation.

The 3D printer that brothers Jonah and Joshua Robbins of Clarkston used to make a prototype ventilator part. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Futrell Evans

“It felt good to know that I might be able to help somebody,” says Jonah, a sixth-grader at Sashabaw Middle School. Jonah ordinarily enjoys printing action figures — which he also likes to paint — and his favorite class at Sashabaw is computer coding. Joshua is a sophomore at Clarkston High School.

The part could possibly be used to allow up to four patients to share one ventilator in the event of a ventilator shortage as doctors and nurses care for patients hit especially hard by the disease, says Kim Thone Visintine, a nurse at local hospitals and a friend of Joshua and Jonah’s mother.

“It’s not ideal, but it gives the patient who may not have a chance to be ventilated at all an opportunity,” Visintine says. That may be preferable, she says, to deciding who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t.

“Nobody in the medical community wants to make that decision,” she adds.

Ventilator-sharing carries risks but is being considered around the country, according to media reports.

Others have also responded to the call for 3-D printing expertise, Visintine says. Those include Oakland Technical Schools and the Square One Education Network, which offers professional development programs with a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) focus.

PPE Donations

Adel Magid, a dentist in Oxford, closed his office more than two weeks ago. Shortly after, he decided to donate his protective gear to those in greater need of it.

Magid gave cases of personal protection equipment — masks and gloves — to hospitals, a local clinic, the Wayne County Jail and Oakland County’s collection point, which is based at the county’s farmers market.

Magid even gave gloves to a local Kroger, where management was grateful to accept it for the protection of workers there, he says.

“A lot of people don’t think of them as essential workers, but they are,” he says.

Magid stops in at his clinic, Dental Center of Oxford, only occasionally now. He isn’t sure whether the pandemic has disrupted the regular delivery of supplies there, but says he’ll keep donating whatever PPE he does get during the crisis.

“It’s a small thing to do,” he says.

Oakland County Executive David Coulter, right, accepts a delivery of personal protective equipment from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. With Coulter are John Macksoud of FCA (on the truck) and Michael Marsac, a county facilities management worker. Oakland County photo

Among the other businesses donating quantities of PPE were Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Magna International, says Coulter spokesman Bill Mullan.

The county is accepting donations of masks, face shields, surgical gowns, surgical gloves, no-touch thermometers and respirators between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the farmers market, 2350 Pontiac Lake Rd. in Waterford. Donors can also call the county’s Emergency Operations Center, 248-858-5300, to arrange a pickup.

Food for the Front Lines

At Fogo de Chão, a Brazilian steakhouse in Troy, the staff has prepared more than 200 meals for the medical professionals working at local hospitals to care for those suffering from coronavirus.

The restaurant has provided fully catered meals for the Beaumont hospitals in Troy and Royal Oak as well as the Detroit Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital in Troy, says Kellie Ann Holcomb, sales manager for Fogo de Chão. The restaurant coordinated the effort with the administration at each hospital in order to ensure it was bringing enough food.

“The gratitude from those we have been feeding has been overwhelming,” Holcomb says via email. “As long as we can help the brave men and women working on the front lines right now, we will continue to do so.”

Here are some other ways Oakland County organizations are making a difference, according to the Auburn Hills Chamber of Commerce.

-Chief Financial Credit Union is donating 150 individual hand sanitizers to the Auburn Hills police, fire and public works departments.

-The FCA North America team at the Mopar Parts Distribution Center donated and shipped out approximately 500,000 face masks to emergency operation centers in Oakland and Wayne counties.

-Mahindra has been providing meals for fire, police and EMS workers and to the staff at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland.

-Nexteer Automotive is using its 3D printers to make plastic masks and face shield headbands and donate them to medical facilities.

-Parents, teachers and alumni at Notre Dame Preparatory School helped make 3D-print components needed for face shields in PPE.

-Oakland Community College donated two ventilators to Ascension Providence Hospital, with its Environmental Health & Safety department preparing a shipment of PPE for donation to local medical facilities.

-Medical students from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine are babysitting children of Beaumont Health physicians, residents and others working in the battle against COVID-19.