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Maryland engineers convert breast pumps to ventilators

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February 07 2021 06:00 pm

MARYLAND (CNN) – Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there’s been a worldwide shortage of medical supplies.

But necessity is the mother of invention and in Maryland, some engineers are turning an item many mothers have at home into much-needed ventilators.

A lot of moms have them just lying around in a closet. But a group of southern Maryland engineers is taking old breast pumps and retrofitting them into ventilators to hopefully help in the fight against the coronavirus.”

“Just as a mom, I spent a lot of time with those devices,” Brandi Gerstner says.

And that got Gerstner thinking if it was possible to turn the suction power of a breast pump around to expel air instead.

Turns out with an exacto knife and Phillips head screwdriver, you can.

“This is the primary compressor unit that’s driving that suction and as you can see its got an inlet and an outlet and this is the inlet and this is the outlet so we just moved the tubing from one to the other,” Gerstner says. “That was the starting point.”

There are more modifications. Like synching the timing of the air with the inhale-exhale ratio recommended by doctors.

“We soldered a few pins onto the control board of the breast pump and just used the Arduino to turn it on and off,” Alex Scott says.

They also need to create an emergency sensor to make sure the pressure of the air stays consistent and take care of a few other technical issues like creating a printed circuit board.

But the group is already using a ventilator test kit. And consulting with pulmonologists to make sure the pumps are up to snuff.

“A lot of its going to be packaging after that point and making sure that the units in their final form are going to be sanitizable,” Gerstner says.

Right now, they’re using donated pumps the process is quick and cheap – $250 per unit.

After the kinks are worked out, the engineers are hoping to get fast track approval from the FDA to get these makeshift ventilators to hospitals.

“If we can have engineers duplicate our efforts across the country so that ventilators can be used in other states quickly and manufactured there quickly we would love that,” Rachel Labatt says.

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