By Bob Skolnik
Area residents are stepping up and doing what they can to help medical workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. One of the biggest local efforts was begun by 17-year-old Tim Pipal, of Riverside.
Pipal has been using the 3D printer he got for Christmas in 2018 to make face shields for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.
With the help of his mother, Sue, who jokingly refers to herself as the chief logistics officer, the Pipals have enlisted a host of others to also make face shields and have coordinated the delivery of 410 of them to hospitals and other first responders in just one week.
"It is definitely quite gratifying," said Tim, who is a junior at Benet Academy in Lisle. "When you see these printers, they have a lot of power and you don't really realize that until you see it in an application like this, when you can really just print a piece of plastic and it could be saving someone's life."
On March 28 Tim saw a report on the NBC 5 news about a 20-something on the North Side who was using a 3D printer to make face shields for Swedish Covenant Hospital. That got Pipal, who had been using his 3D printer to make flower pots, thinking.
He went to the NBC 5 website and saw a link about how to make a face shield with a 3D printer. It wasn't hard. The plastic visor of the face shield is made from the kind of plastic report covers that you can get at an office supply store.
Soon, Tim was churning out the face shields on the 3D printer in the basement of his home. It takes him about 50 minutes to make one face shield. Now his printer is running 24 hours a day. Tim says he's been staying up until around 4 a.m. to monitor the printer, using an app on his smartphone. Once he goes to sleep, his parents take over.
"All hands on deck, just started printing 24/7," Tim said. "It's kind of taken over our lives here."
Sue Pipal has been a whirlwind, using connections and social media to find out who needs face shields and recruiting others to expand production.
Quickly joining the effort were eight other local residents with 3D printers. Tim Pipal and others also persuaded school officials at area schools to help out, and now the 3D printers at Riverside-Brookfield High School, L.J. Hauser High School and S.E. Gross Middle School are also spitting out the face shields.
Doc Mack at Galloping Ghost Reproductions in Brookfield has also joined the effort, using his print shop's 3D printer to make the face shields.
Face shields have been delivered to the Riverside Fire Department, UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago, West Suburban Hospital, the University of Chicago Hospital emergency room, Glenbrook Hospital, Mercy Hospital, Illinois Masonic Hospital, Central DuPage Hospital and others.
The list keeps growing every day. Sue Pipal estimated that she has requests for nearly 1,000 face shields. It is a totally voluntary effort. The face shields are delivered for no charge and most of the materials are donated.
The group making the face shields has created a Facebook page, West Suburban 3D Face Shield Printers, which now has 34 members, to coordinate the effort and share information.
Those with 3D printers who want to start making face shields can join the group or email Sue Pipal at email@example.com.
People can also help by donating raw materials, including 8.5-by-11-inch clear plastic report covers – 10 mil, 1.75 PLA filament of any color for the printers, and quarter-inch knit elastic for the headbands.
"Our ask on social media really took off," Sue Pipal said. "People are coming to our house donating raw materials, in the form of elastic for the bands that hold the 3D-printed shield on the doctor's head. So much of the raw material we need is sold out of stores. So, we are asking people to dig through their basements."
Those needing face shields should contact the Facebook group.
"I would say that I have made more virtual friends, whom I have not gotten within six feet of, than I have ever had before," Sue Pipal said.
Other residents are also helping out however they can.
Riverside resident Riia O'Donnell has been sewing fashionable face masks for medical professionals and others. She's made about 80 so far.
The science department at Riverside-Brookfield High School donated 60 goggles and from between 1,400 to 1,800 gloves to McNeal Hospital in Berwyn on March 28.
RBHS chemistry teacher and science department instructional coach Christy Hughes came up with idea after it became apparent that RBHS would be closed until at least May 1. The googles and gloves are normally used by RBHS students doing science, primarily chemistry, experiments.
"The likelihood of us needing those particular items [this year] are very slim," Hughes said.
Hughes texted her idea to District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis, who quickly approved it. Hughes then contacted area first responders and found out that the emergency room at McNeal Hospital needed face masks so she went to RBHS, loaded the boxes of googles and gloves into her car, and drove over to McNeal to deliver them.
"We're not going to be using these items; they can't just sit in the schools when people in our communities need them," Hughes said.
A local Girl Scout troop is also doing what they can. The eighth-grade Cadettes of Girl Scout Troop 50021 have been sending Girl Scout cookies to and making thank you cards for emergency room workers at MacNeal Hospital, West Suburban Hospital, Rush-Oak Park Hospital, Loyola University Medical Center and Cook County Hospital.
"It's the least we can do to support the herculean medical efforts from our area hospitals," said troop leader Linda Sandusky. "These folks are risking their lives every day to save so many of our friends, neighbors and fellow Chicagoans. It's the least we can do to let them know that they're appreciated."
Sue Pipal said she hopes to keep expanding production of the face shields until everyone who needs one has one.
"I think we're going to do it until it's all over," Sue Pipal said.