Samaritans Work ‘Round Clock To Fill Need
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
UTICA – Every day, Ivan Potocnik gets calls from people across the state, begging him for help.
“The head of nursing from a hospital on Long Island just broke down crying,” he said. “She was telling me that there’s just not enough personal protective equipment, and it’s contributing to the spread. I wish that was uncommon, but we hear it all the time.
“She had heard that we were printing the medical shields, and was begging me – this person she didn’t even know – for help getting some.”
Potocnik, born in Oneonta, raised in Laurens and now lead programmer analyst at SUNY Polytechnic in Utica, has partnered with several friends to 3D-print medical shields for healthcare workers who often work 12-hour shifts on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, using the same PPE for multiple patients.
Potocnik was contacted by a friend, Shawn Daley in Northborough, Mass., who was working with another friend, Toni Dipalma, Albany, to make the masks and donate them to healthcare workers.
The visors – printed from a pattern they found online – are worn by medical professionals as “splatter prevention” against sneezes and other bodily fluids, with a face mask worn underneath.
A 3D printer – from a digital file, it can print three-dimensional solid objects – in this case, the visors. Potocnik then assembles the pieces.
Under normal circumstances, said, the shield would be used, then thrown away. But with supplies as limited as they are, these masks can be cleaned with soap, water and rubbing alcohol and reused until the plastic fogs. Two shields are included with every visor to extend its life.
Potocnik – he is also the web architect who built www.AllOTSEGO.com – purchased his own 3D printer for the project and enlisted a Utica-area friend, Ryan Quigley. They also started a GoFundMe to help buy materials; of the $5,000 goal, $4,470 has been raised. Three 3D printers have also been donated.
Along with Daley and Quigley, Potocnik prints the visor, and attaches the transparent plastic shield. Dipalma works as communications director, fielding calls and taking orders. Potocnik then sanitizes, packages and ships the masks.
Seven 3D printers going full-time can produce between 80-100 visors per day. “So far, we’ve distributed 450 visors, with 900 shields,” Potocnik said. “If we could ramp it up, we’d like to distribute 500+ a week.”
Word quickly got out, and soon cold calls from across the state started coming in. “People have been so grateful, whether we give them five or 100,” he said. “It’s really indicative of the state of affairs.”
Many times, he said, it’s a brother or sister of nurses or aides reaching out on their behalf. “The health-care workers are just too busy,” he said. “They work their shift, come home and fall into bed, then get up and do it again.”
Locally, visors have been distributed to Bassett Healthcare and ARC Otsego, as well as EMTs with the Davenport Volunteer Fire Department.
Potocnik has also distributed visors to Utica-area nursing homes and Oneida Hospital. “I’d like to get more back home,” he said.
Daley has been distributing to several locations in Massachusetts, including Worcester and Milford. Other messages come in through the Facebook page, and Potocnik is working on building a website.
And he’s still seeking people with 3D printers to join the effort. “We’ll take any you can print,” he said. “If we had 100 machines running, we still couldn’t meet the demand.”
But he doesn’t want to be called a hero for his efforts. “These are desperate times,” said Potocnik “and schlubs like me shouldn’t be getting any recognition because the government failed to prepare.”