La. professor goes 3D in effort to help health workers get protective gear

La. professor goes 3D in effort to help health workers get protective gear
LC professor Natalie Maxie works on her 3D printer in the background as she works to create medical shields for health care workers at Rapides Regional Medical Center. (Source: KALB)

PINEVILLE, La. (KALB) - Louisiana College professor Natalie Maxey, Ph.D. often uses a 3D printer to teach her engineering students. But it’s her latest project that she’s really excited about.

Maxey’s sister, Amanda Dubois, Ph.D., also teaches at LC, and another sister, Samantha Zeringue, MD, is a surgeon at Rapides Regional Medical Center in Alexandria. So, when Maxey saw the need growing for personal protective equipment, or PPE, for those who work in hospitals, she got an idea. It came after she read a social media post about using 3D printers to make medical equipment.

“I ran it by my sisters, said ‘hey, this is something I could print. Do you think it’s something feasible to do?’ And they said, ‘yeah, it’s worth a try,’” Maxey said.

Maxey called the President of Louisiana College, Dr. Rick Brewer, about the project. Brewer called Jason Cobb, Rapides Regional Medical Center's Chief Executive Officer.

Meanwhile, Maxey went to work. Her first product was a replica N-95 mask that she’s still working to perfect.

“The idea is that it can use a smaller amount of the filter material,” Maxey said. “What initially drew me to this design is you could potentially use one N-95 mask and turn it into maybe four masks because you can cut the mask into smaller pieces…and so medical personnel could clean the plastic part of the mask and replace the material periodically.”

But, after Brewer found out Rapides Regional had enough N-95 masks, Maxey’s focus changed. Cobb said what RRMC really needed were 100 visor-type face shields immediately. Maxey and others who are part of Facebook Group called “PPE 3D Printing 4 Cenla” went to work to get that done.

While using the 3D printer to create the frame of the shields, Maxey is using common transparency sheets, elastic from a craft store and weather stripping from Lowe’s all to create them.

“They are going to try to re-use 3D the printed part and replace the plastic part as needed,” she said.

“As our hospital staff continues to care for patients on a daily basis, during a time in our history that’s unlike any we’ve ever known, it’s reassuring to know that community partners and friends are working with us to make sure we have everything we need to provide the best care possible,” Cobb said. “As always, our goal is to provide exceptional care to our patients while keeping our RRMC team and our Central Louisiana community healthy and safe.”

The project has not been without its challenges. There is a run on the filament for 3D printers, also it takes about 75 minutes to print every part. To help, Maxey is hoping to involve other schools or organizations with a 3D printer. Then there are the costs.

While Maxey was in the lab working, Brewer was a guest on KALB’s Good Day Cenla. There he shared a few details about the project. Within an hour, Brewer received notice that a church wanted to donate $500 to the project. And before 24 hours had passed, more than $5,500 had been donated to help defray expenses and help buy another 3D printer.

One of those companies, Cleco, donated $1,500 toward the effort on Thursday. Cleco’s donation will help make about 300 face shields.

“We’re committed to helping protect the communities we serve which include the medical professionals working in our hospitals, urgent care facilities and nursing homes,” said Anthony Bunting, Cleco chief transformation officer. “Cleco believes in the power of community and now more than ever, we need to help one another especially those on the front lines.”

“All across the United States, corporations and companies both large and small are pitching in to help others in these challenging days,” Brewer said. “I am glad for Louisiana College to do its part through the servant heart of Dr. Maxey, who came to us through God’s providence.”

LC is in the process of setting up a way for people to donate to the project through its website.

For now, they are accepting checks to:

COVID-19 3D Project

c/o President’s Office

Louisiana College

1140 College Drive

Pineville, LA 71360

In the meantime, Brewer announced late Thursday that LC is also planning to purchase an industrial strength 3D printer for Maxey to be able to continue to advance her efforts.

“It’s really exciting,” Maxey said. “I’m excited to be a help and use my skills and education to be a problem solver in the community. It’s really great.”

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