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A San Antonio Effort To Avoid A Ventilator Shortage Has Grass Roots

Courtesy Canopener Labs
Councilman Roberto Trevino, Dale Bracey and Drue Placette

A San Antonio city councilman and a local fabrication lab think they have an answer to the ventilator shortage. The group said Friday it had prototyped an emergency ventilator that can be deployed cheaply.

GM announced Friday they would launch campaigns to make needed ventilators more available. The devices can cost between $5,000 to $50,000. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology released an open-source emergency ventilator this week as well.  

“One of the big questions we had over the past couple days was ‘I can’t believe this hasn’t actually been done before,” said Roberto Treviño, a councilman.

Estimates show that as many as a million people could need access to a ventilator across the country, and according to the New England Journal of Medicine, the country has as many as 160,000.

"The national strategic reserve of ventilators is small and far from sufficient for the projected gap," said an article recently within its pages.

Treviño was inspired by a 10-year old paper by MIT researchers outlining how it could be made. 

He began on the project Monday night enlisting help from friends, local physicians and then Canopener Labs. 

Treviño, a trained architect, designed the device. Canopener Labs employees said the councilman then stayed several nights until past 1 a.m. to complete the unit. They were nearly done Thursday night when the lab’s laser cutter broke down.

“He literally sat on the floor and hand cut [the remaining pieces] for hours,” said Drue Placette with Canopener Labs. 

The ventilator is a departure from something you would find in the hospital, looking like something out of a workshop. 

Credit Courtesy Canopener Labs
An early iteration of the group's efforts. A future version will be built from aluminum.

Weighing less than three pounds, Treviño said the emergency ventilator cost a couple hundred dollars in parts. It is made from acrylic, metal and 3D printed parts.  

“I view this as part of a much bigger effort — at least in our space, the maker movement — and all the people that are doing all these different open source projects,” Dale Bracey said, also with Canopener labs.

Masks, face shields, and many other items are being sourced through 3D printing and other community efforts across the city and country.

Students and faculty at Rice University announced their own design. Similar to the San Antonio effort, It uses the traditional mask-and squeezable bag setup of emergency medical staff, and automates it. MIT also released an updated version of their design. Both will release the designs to the public.

The prototype was presented to city manager Erik Walsh and Dr. Colleen Bridger on Friday night. Placette and Treviño said it was going well and that they will present to the University Health System in coming days. 

If approved, it isn’t clear how long it would take to perfect and manufacture. They plan on mass manufacturing an aluminum version, which would reduce its weight and cost.

There are no guarantees that it will ever be used, but  — while important — Trevino said it wasn’t wasted effort.

“We're doing everything we can to try to help this community,” he said. “There's no waste in it trying to do your part.” 

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org or on twitter @paulflahive

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org