CONWAY — During the COVID-19 pandemic, folks across the Mount Washington Valley have been looking for ways to pitch in and try to lighten the load for the front-line heroes at Memorial Hospital.
Joe Riddensdale, CADD (Computer-Aided Design & Drafting) and engineering teacher at the Mount Washington Valley Career and Technical Center at Kennett High School, wanted to do his part.
“My wife, Kim, has been a respiratory therapist at Memorial for the past eight years, so she’s right there on the front line of all this,” Riddensdale, 55, of Fryeburg, Maine, said Tuesday.
Kim Riddensdale explained: “Respiratory therapists manage the mechanical ventilators, or life support, for patients. Since the coronavirus outbreak, the respiratory team has been collaborating to figure out the most efficient and safest ways to deliver care."
According to the state Department of Health and Human Services, as of Thursday 788 people are confirmed to have the COVID-19 virus in the Granite State, including 23 in Carroll County, with five to nine cases in Conway and one to four in Bartlett, Chatham and Madison.
Joe said: “I saw what companies like Ambix and Ragged Mountain Equipment were doing to help, and I wanted to do something. One of the things that came up with Kim in our conversations was how the hospital only has five ventilators at the moment. I know there is a concern about not having enough.”
Ragged Mountain Equipment in Intervale has made and delivered masks to Memorial Hospital. Meanwhile, Ambix Manufacturing, a plastic injection molding service in Albany, has geared up to make plastic molded medical face shields for health-care workers.
Joe Riddensdale put on his thinking cap and programmed the 3-D printer at Kennett High School, and 48 hours later had created two pieces of equipment that could be lifesavers.
He made a splitter out of hard plastic that can hook up to a ventilator and in essence turn one ventilator into two, potentially doubling the fleet at Memorial.
“The splitter would be something that could be used as a last resort if needed,” Joe said, noting, “I designed these based on the ventilators at the hospital.”
He added: “Kim and I also discussed the filters they have at the hospital. A specific antiviral filter could be used on the vents if they had an adapter.”
So he also created a connector piece to attach the antiviral filter on the exhalation side of the ventilator, which will protect any virus or potential infections from entering the room.
On Thursday, Kim shared the hardware with the staff at Memorial, and by early afternoon, the HEPA filters had been installed.
Dr. Matt Dunn, chief medical officer at Memorial, likes what the Riddensdales have brought forward.
“These are definitely uncharted waters, and we are doing everything we can to be ready to take care of our community,” Dunn said.
“I was very excited to see the work that Joe Riddensdale did and how this small piece he made is improving the safety of our ventilators.”
Timothy Kershner, director of communications and public affairs at Memorial, said: “I just saw this 3-D adapter for the ventilator. It’s pretty cool.”
The Career and Tech Center has had 3-D printers for 10 years, but in 2018, Director Virginia Schrader was able to secure a large model through grants totaling more than $15,000.
“I’m very proud of him and his cleverness,” Schrader said of Riddensdale by phone Thursday. “Joe’s creativity is unmatched.”
Schrader said there was a call over the internet to help your local hospitals where you can.
“There were a lot of emails going around about how people with creativity and expertise in 3-D printing could help,” she said. “Joe really wanted to do something, and Memorial needs these parts. I hope this helps.”
The 3-D printing process builds a three-dimensional object from a computer-aided design model, usually by successively adding material layer by layer.
“The first (splitter) I printed out was just a little bit too small,” Joe said. “Through trial and error and reinforcing the thickness, we got it right.”
The first prototype took 17-18 hours to complete, but Joe was able to speed that process up to where he can make one in about seven hours. He can produce 24 antiviral filter connectors in 19 hours.
“I just want to help if I can,” he said. “Since these are a disposable item, in the event that the hospital needs more, I can print as many as they need.”
Riddensdale has been teaching from home for the past three weeks during remote learning.
“It’s certainly interesting,” he said. The good news is: "My commute has been cut down considerably.”
He added: “You never realize how much you miss school until you’re not in it. I really miss seeing the students.”
Riddensdale, who also has been the summer camp program director for the MWV School to Career Summer Camps for the past nine years, taught a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Camp three summers ago.
In the camp, middle-schoolers learned how to do a wide range of things from creating apps to printing projects in a 3-D printer. Riddensdale hopes to continue offering all the camps again this summer.