Full house: Wellesley dad, daughter & 25 3D printers pumping out COVID-19 protectors

3D-printed respirator (photos via Stan Helinski)

Wellesley resident Stan Helinski says he’s only getting 3 or 4 hours of sleep per night of late. Having 25 3D printers in your house cranking out COVID-19 protection gear around the clock will do that to you.

In watching the news at the start of the stay-at-home advisory, Helinski says he was stunned by the lack of personal protection equipment available at hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities treating COVID-19 patients. “I didn’t want to just sit on my tuchus when there were so many people risking their lives,” says Helinski, an attorney by trade who says he thought about joining the National Guard if not for needing to care for his 11-year-old daughter Gabby.

He ordered 2 3D printers 5 weeks ago, then posted online asking if anyone knew of specifications for masks. He got a big response and 2 volunteers, Marilyn Savage and Eric Sawicki. Once he got going, he ordered 4 more printers and had supplies like FDA-approved PLActive medical filament, foam tape and plastic shields flooding in.

“I was pushing out a decent number of [3D respirators that could be used in place of N95 masks], but I wasn’t even close to meeting demand,” says Helsinki, whose crew monitors need daily and prioritizes its distribution based on that.

The team reached out and was lent 15 printers from Weston High School, a couple more from Wellesley, and he ordered a couple more to get to the current total. Now Helinski is producing close to 100 of the reusable protectors per day (they have replaceable filters).

Helinski relied on advice from connections in the medical field to settle on a lightweight equipment design “that passed the ‘sniff’ test as an ER doc described it to me: Fit the mask tightly and spray perfume in the air. If you can’t smell it, viruses can’t get in.”

3D printer operation

It takes Helinski about 5 hours to make a respirator mask, then his fellow volunteers fit the gear with an elastic head band and foam tape around the edge for an airtight fit. His printers pump out some face shields, too. Daughter Gabby has played a key role in pulling finished prints, clean them, reloading filament and starting new builds,” Helinski says.  “She has just shocked me at how resourceful and intelligent she is. I know, I’m a little biased,” he adds.

Carney Hospital, Saint Elizabeth’s, Waltham fire & rescue and others have been beneficiaries of all this work.  “My focus right now is to supply nursing homes as much as possible. I’ve had to make countless emergency runs to nursing homes with positive COVID patients and staff with literally nothing–they are taking in snorkels and masks to work. Just unbelievable,” he says.

The operation has designs down the road on making viral filters and other gear used for intubating patients.

All of this takes lots of supplies, and Helinski has launched a crowdfunding campaign to supplement what he’s spent on his own.

It has been a whirlwind… but I love it and feel so alive knowing what we’re doing,” Helinski says. “The chance to save a life is not anything I could ever achieve reading law books.”

Send email to shelinski@gmail.com for more information, including getting on the equipment list.

More mask stories: Wellesley residents rev up sewing machines to fight coronavirus spread 

Natick teen’s 3D printing gift: Masks for medical staff on coronavirus duty

Natick volunteers spotlight: making masks in a time of pandemic

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