Student uses 3D printer to make ‘ear savers’ for medical community

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Cooper Nelson, a junior at Collierville High School, recently answered the call to make “ear savers” for medical masks using his own 3D printer.

The innovative devices fit behind the ears and relieve the elastic stress from masks worn by medical personnel and others wearing masks during their long shifts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nelson’s family was sewing fabric ear savers with ribbon and buttons when he decided to search online for an easier method using his 3D printer. He found a 3D design file on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.

The file noted, “This design has undergone review in a clinical setting and is recommended when fabricated as instructed”.

“I hadn’t used my printer in a while and thought I could put it to good use. It was not tough to upload the file and start printing batches right away. I had plenty of PLA plastic and with this file, I was able to print six at a time on my small printer bed,” Nelson said.

Nelson has already started to 3D print another helpful tool for mask makers — bias tape threaders. The seamstresses are getting low on elastic for masks so they are using regular fabric to make their own ties. So, the threader tool enables volunteers to prepare the ties faster for sewing.

The masks are being sewn by the Mid-South Medical Mask Makers Facebook group made up of area volunteers. The volunteers include fabric cutters, delivery volunteers, and seamstresses in the area. They are fulfilling requests for fabric masks to help fill the supply need for area medical offices, dental offices, nursing homes and hospital staff.

“We’re so thrilled to have volunteers like Cooper provide ear savers,” said Selena Silvestro, co-founder of the Mid-South Medical Mask Makers volunteer group. “Medical teams are working long hours and comfort is important. We’re in continual communication with the medical community for valuable feedback and to process mask improvements. Medical professionals are reusing their PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) – both N95 masks and the thinner “disposable” medical masks for longer periods of time than safely recommended due to the extreme shortage right now of proper PPE.”

Handmade cotton masks can be worn over medical masks to extend the life of the PPE. Medical professionals are saving hospital grade filter materials to use inside cotton masks for filter protection if N95 masks have become unavailable.

Mid-South Medical Mask Makers doesn’t accept cash for masks or any monetary donations. The group will accept donated supplies like ear savers. The greatest needs are donations of tightly woven cotton fabric cut into “mask kits,” 1-by-16 or 1-by-8 elastic strips, sturdy grosgrain ribbon, or twill (all used for mask ties).

Silvestro said that members helping to cut patterns, make 3D creations and volunteering to drive are just as important as those who can sew.

“What’s incredible is the connection to so many people who want to help support the front lines,” she noted. “This is a scary time for everyone — there’s a battle with an unseen enemy and our medical community is struggling to protect themselves, save patients, and make sure they don’t bring the virus home to their loved ones. We are thankful to have an opportunity to help in a small way and hope to inspire more people to join up.”

To learn how you can help, find them on Facebook and request to join: Mid-South Medical Mask Makers.

Medical professionals can connect with the group at MidsouthMaskMakers@gmail.com.