Engineers have built emergency ventilators from snorkelling masks to meet surging demand in Italy’s coronavirus crisis.
Cristan Fracassi and Alessandro Romaioli, who work at start-up company Isinnova in Brescia, a city in Lombardy which has seen over 3,000 Covid-19 deaths, responded when their local hospital ran out of valves for breathing machines.
The Covid-19 pandemic has rocked the region, in northern Italy, which remains on lockdown as hospitals are swamped with 9,266 virus patients.
“Our first few attempts didn’t succeed, but eventually we made four copies of the prototype on a small 3-D printing machine that we have in our office,” they said in a New York Times article.
“While the valve might look like a simple piece of plastic, it’s pretty complex; the hole that diffuses the oxygen is less than a millimetre in diameter.
“The day after, we returned to the hospital and gave our valves to a doctor who tested them. They worked and he asked for 100 more. So we went back to the office, and returned to the hospital with 100 more.”
A head physician at a neighbouring hospital then got in touch, prompting them to attempt an emergency ventilator mask using snorkelling equipment to address the shortage.
Mr Fracassi and Mr Romaioli said on their website: “The prototype as a whole has been tested on one of our colleagues directly inside the Chiari Hospital, connected to the ventilator body, and has proven to be correctly working.
“The hospital itself was enthusiastic about the idea and decided to test the device on a patient in need. The testing was successful.”
They have now patented their snorkel model and plan to share it with other developers for free to help healthcare facilities struggling to cope with the pandemic.
It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a desperate plea for manufacturers to build 25,000 more ventilators amid fears the NHS, which currently has 5,000, could become overwhelmed.
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