By Sally Tippett Rains
In the midst of this COVID-19 emergency, ventilators are in critically short supply both in the USA and worldwide and of course that trickles down to the Greater St. Louis Area. Some St. Louis medical personnel are involved with an idea that may soon be helping the situation, but they need financial contributions to do it.
According to experts, the problem in getting enough ventilators is that existing designs rely on specialty parts which take a long time to get and the quantities needed are not being met.
There is such a shortage of ventilators that the Husky Corporation in Pacific which normally makes gasoline nozzles, is producing ventilators and Allied Healthcare Products has stepped up the number they already make. Now a non-profit, the Interstate Disaster Medical Collaborative (IDMC) is stepping up to help in the ventilator production efforts worldwide. They feel they have the technology to help increase production by tens of thousands.
IDMC just announced the launch of a scalable, portable 3D-printed ventilator. The new device is called ARMEE™ ventilation (ARMEEVent.com) which stands for “Automatic Respiration Management Exclusively for Emergencies.”
The IDMC is a St. Louis based national non-profit organization that provides a forum for collaboration of ideas with disaster medical experts.
St. Louisans John Tosi, DDS, Teresa Barnes (Tosi) and IDMC President Brian Foelke, M.D., are involved in the research.
This new device, shown left, is based on technology developed in the 1960’s by Harry Diamond Laboratories for the U.S. Army. Experts believe the simply-designed ventilator, which requires no electricity and has no moving parts, can help bridge the gap of urgently needed mechanical ventilation support during the COVID-19 crisis.
Tosi, shown right, started providing assistance on the project with a key document search on the original Army device from the 1950s as a way to help engineers who initiated the project. They uncovered information on the device back in March and were able to get one of just two existing devices from a relic museum in the Midwest and reverse engineered it.
Tosi and his wife, Teresa Barnes (Tosi) have brought in experts in areas of emergency medicine and disaster response, including Froelke as well as experts in respiratory medicine. Now they have a team of world class engineers and medical experts working to move the effort forward quickly.
“This is actually in development,” said Barnes. “We are actively getting it in research labs in order to get the regulatory approval to get them in the hand of the doctors and others in the medical world to for use on COVID-19 patients.”
The ARMEEVent.com website says, “We are building one small but very important piece of a ventilator – the part that controls timing and switching back and forth between inhale and exhale. As far as we are concerned, producing the rest of a ventilator is easy if we get this right.”
It would be an affordable, rapidly deployable ventilation tool that can be utilized in almost any kind of emergency or disaster response.
“As an emergency physician, I have been following reports of supply shortages from around the world including ventilators,” said Froelke, shown left.
“I am also faced with contingency plans that involve the moral, ethical and psychological challenges of selective ventilator allocation that I pray I will never have to face. For myself and my colleagues, this device could save us from that one serious challenge and allow us the time and energy to face the other critical aspects of patient care.”
Dr. Froelke, shown in the featured photo with the device in his hand and a protective mask on, is the East Central Regional EMS Medical Director for Missouri.
As Foelke said, a big problem is if there aren’t enough ventilators, who should get one when needed? This is what they are working to overcome.
Theresa Barnes (Tosi), shown left, who advocates for respiratory disease is very concerned about lung disorders. She has lost several family members to the lung disease Pulmonary Fibrosis (PF) so she has made it her life’s mission to help others in this area.
“The device would be used in emergency situations by people like emergency responders, physicians and experts responding to 911 calls and working in mobile/temporary hospital settings with limited or no access to electricity,” said Barnes. “Also, this would be used by emergency responders and for emergency use by physicians who are trying to save lives but have no standard ventilators. This can help them avoid making difficult decisions regarding who to ventilate.”
Barnes is among those leading the way to get much-needed donations to help the cause. Everyone involved in the project, the doctors and engineers are all volunteers.
“The goal is to release this device to the world,” she said. “We are not in it to make money; we are all volunteers– the doctors, the engineers, all of us. We want to save lives. The funds raised will go toward production of the prototypes of the ventilators and give us the ability to let people know about it, so that one day soon it can be available worldwide.”
“The simplicity of the design of ARMEE™ is what makes this device brilliant,” said Chris Jung, lead engineer on the IDMC project, shown left. “It can perform the most essential ventilator functions by providing breathing assistance to patients in need and can do so without electricity. It can also be built economically and quickly using easily-accessible materials.”
Overcoming Hurdles and Bridging the Gap
As many U.S.-based and international companies have jumped in to help aid the COVID-19 crisis by mass producing ventilators, they are now being hampered by competition for limited resources and materials, resulting in slower manufacturing processes and longer lead times.
This is the same thing that happened with people trying to sew the homemade masks. As more people began making the masks, the supply of elastic went down and soon there were those who were willing to make mask but did not have elastic and though many ordered it online the delivery process is sometimes months out.
With the mass-creating of ventilators, front line medical experts are being told it could be months before they will have access to the newly available ventilators coming offline in the standard ventilator market.
With this being such a crucial week as far as people getting the virus, Barnes is enthusiastic about the project and feels it is vital to the situation.
“We are trying to get this much-needed technology into the hands of experts on the front lines of this battle to save lives,” she said. “Our first priority is to make these devices safely and then to make sure our state and national doctors have the tools they need right now.”
The design protocol of the device can be provided to manufacturers and production of ventilators can be ramped up to meet demand within days. To maintain quality and safety standards, once regulatory approval is given, the IDMC plans to provide serial numbers to manufacturers so that the resulting products can be easily monitored by the organization for safety and quality improvement initiatives.
For more information on the device ARMEEVent.com.
NOTE: When you make a donation there is a drop-down menu where you can specify the funds go to the ARMEE vent system.
IDMC is a 501(c)3 and donations are tax deductible.
The Interstate Disaster Medical Collaborative (IDMC) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that provides a forum for collaboration, cooperation and coordination of disaster medical experts, assets and systems. To learn more, visit IDMC.us