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Surgeon forms Facebook group to sew masks - Odessa American: News

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Surgeon forms Facebook group to sew masks

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Posted: Tuesday, March 24, 2020 12:29 pm

Facing depletion in its stock of surgical masks, a general surgeon with Medical Center Hospital has formed a Facebook group to help increase the supply.

Dr. Faye Armstrong-Papp, who also is chair of the hospital’s department of surgery, said the immediate goal of the group, Masks for Medics Odessa, Texas, is to sew 2,000 masks.

“Last week, we became more and more aware of how dire the need is for protective equipment is for medical staff in the hospital. Our normal resources are coming from China. Nothing’s happening in China as they're dealing with the conraovirus outbreak there. We realized last week that we had about two to three weeks of surgical masks left, and after that, we would have nothing to protect ourselves from our patients in surgery,” Armstrong-Papp said. “We'd had a nurse several years ago who was allergic to the surgical masks and I’d made masks for her to wear out of fabric until we found a hypoallergenic mask for her. I said let’s make our own, so I made up a couple of samples, bought them up here, showed them to hospital administration and they said OK. It took us until (last) Friday to get them completely approved. But we were already working with it prior to that. We’re doing this completely on donations at this point in time, and volunteer work. We’ve got doctors and nurses who’ve provided money. I have nurses sewing. I have all kinds of other hospital staff. I have a PhD professor from UTPB who's sewing; community people in churches; ECISD has a bunch of teachers, so just people all over are helping their fellow citizens.”

Armstrong-Papp said she started the Facebook group the night of March 18 and it now has more than 250 members.

“I’ve got 65 masks up here that we’ve got completed, washed and sterilized. As of last night (March 22), there were another several dozen that were already ready and I expect many more today (March 23). Our goal is to do about 2,000 for the hospital, although I just received word that they’re going to ask for a more intensely protective type of mask that we will be working on to protect those who are at most risk,” Armstrong-Papp said.

“The masks we’re doing now are just the simple ones that we will need for average risk protection,” she added. “These are not for great protection from coronavirus. This is just to keep the operating room going, because even with coronavirus here, the other problems that people have don’t go away. I took care of a perforated colon over the weekend. There’s going to be a perforated appendix. There’s traumas; there’s brain bleeds; cancers; all sorts of things we can’t put off for three or four months that people will die, or be severely injured, or impacted if we can’t take care of it now. And if we don’t have masks in the operating room, we can’t do the surgery and so that’s what these are for.”

The masks are made out of cotton so they are bleachable and washable. Armstrong-Papp said the ones she had Monday have already been bleached, washed and ironed. They are similar in shape to the ones that they use, and while they won’t have the same quality of protection, she said “when you compare it to nothing … it’s a whole lot better.”

Armstrong-Papp said she has been overwhelmed by the response to the call for masks.

“I thought I could manage this on my own, but I’ve already got four people now that are on the group that are helping to be my managers and coordinators. We have folks that are cutting, folks that are sewing, folks that are picking up and delivering,” she said. “It’s a big effort that’s widely coordinated throughout the community and there are people throughout the country that have been asking for information so they can start their own programs and there's others that have popped up also independently throughout the country.”

She noted that the mask situation impacts her directly because she is a surgeon.

“And I also sew. I’ve been sewing since high school, and here in the Permian Basin, I’ve worked with the Permian Playhouse sewing costumes for many years, so I enjoy sewing and this is a way that I can use my other skills … to help with my day job,” Armstrong-Papp said.

It takes about half an hour to an hour to make a mask, but with a remote assembly line approach, it goes down to 15 to 20 minutes. People are working in their own homes trying to maintain distance and sterility. After they're picked up, she said, the masks are washed, bleached and ironed to help prevent any kind of contamination that may have come from the people that are making them.

The majority of the donations for the masks has come from medical staff and physicians, but nurses have also contributed.

She said she hopes more than 2,000 masks can be provided.

“My goal would be to take care of Medical Center because that’s where I work. That’s my home, but then expand that out to other facilities, doctors’ offices and other places that have need so the more the merrier,” Armstrong-Papp said.

She said there is a sewing shop in town that has volunteered to make covers for N95 masks to help protect providers from the droplets that people cough or anything that’s splashed.

MCH Director of Public Relations Trevor Tankersley said the hospital has sufficient N95 masks for now, but that number could drastically switch once the first positive coronavirus case pops up.

“So we’re always looking … to try and get more of those, but as of now we do have those,” he said.

Armstrong-Papp said there is a nurse who has a new style of mask made with coffee filters that almost passed the N95 fit test.

“We’re going to look at that and see if that’s something that we can add to what we’re sewing now, to give the more intense protection for those that are in those higher risk areas,” she said.

What’s important is to have a good fit over the face.

“It really doesn't matter how they’re attached — whether they have elastic bands around the ears, around the head, or ties. The big thing is that you want the face covered. You don’t want big gaps along the sides because things can get in that way,” she said.

If someone wants to join the group and is on Facebook, they can request to be added. If not, they can contact Armstrong-Papp’s office at 432-580-0300 and leave their name and number and they will pass that on to the coordinators to add to the group.

Annette Klinke, a certified nurse assistant for Ector County Independent School District, is a Facebook friend of Armstrong-Papp’s.

“I couldn’t believe the hospital was going to need help. … I’m always helping out and I thought this was something I could do, especially because we didn’t have students. I had a little bit of extra time at work, so I started Friday to work on the masks at work and then found out I didn't have time so now … I’m sewing the masks at home,” Klinke said.

Over the weekend, she was able to complete 19 masks.

“I ran out of fabric and then this morning, Annette Macias, who is one of our ECISD administrators, she had bought fabric and cut out enough for 50, so I went and picked up the fabric from her and now I’m sewing those,” Klinke said.

She said she’s glad to be able to help out.

“I work in the healthcare field myself. I’m a CNA for the school district, so I know how scary it is not to have what you need to perform your job and be safe,” she said.

Armstrong-Papp thanked the Basin for its support.

“I just want to thank the people in this community,” she said. “We are in such a wonderful place after the shooting last year and now seeing the response for the need for masks and supplies here, we're just so blessed to be here,” Armstrong-Papp said. “The people in West Texas are probably the best people in the world.”

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