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Atlanta teen creates database to connect mask makers with those in need of protective gear

BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE

Atlanta, GA, August 7, 2020: As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the globe, human race is finding ways to cope and rise above the crises. Even teenagers who normally worry about their summer plans, have shifted gears and turned within, to help and be of service to those in need.

NRI Pulse recognizes these humanitarian acts in our series, Giving, Dil Se in the Time of COVID-19, featuring contributions of the Indian-American community.

Shanti Hegde, a rising senior at Lambert High School decided to dedicate her summer to the production of regular and specialized masks for the hearing impaired and the creation of a website that provides a centralized place for mask makers to connect and a database of those in need of the protective gear.

“My main goal was to bring change, positivity, and help others in this time of need,” says Hegde, Founder of Operations Masks Georgia, a website/network she crafted to help connect, make, and donate masks to people all over the United States.

Operations Masks Georgia has donated over 1500 masks to over 100 families in need, hospitals, healthcare workers, across the United States, including Northside Hospital, Emory Hospital/Emory University Hospital, WellStar Health System, Northeast Georgia Health System, Season Inpatient and Palliative Care unit, CVS Pharmacy, Antebellum Assisted Living, Waffle House, Agape Hospice, Crossroads Medical Management Inc., Bennsys, NYU Langone Hospital, Body Bros Physical Therapy​, Kroger, Home Depot, Team Lara, Douglas County Board of Commissioners and Columbia University.

An avid Girl Scout on the healthcare and biotechnology pathway at her high school, Hegde recognized the need for masks in the community and at the stores she frequented very early on, at the onset of the pandemic.  “I was heartbroken that this basic protective equipment was not provided to these workers, and how many of the doctors, businesses, employees, and others were highly susceptible to these pathogens. That is when I realized I needed to do my part as a healthcare student in the community and started making masks for those in need.” says Hegde.

Hegde put out messages on the Forsyth County Place Facebook group and responses started flooding in through the google survey she had posted. There were a lot of people in the county, across Georgia, and the U.S. that were in need. “There were so many immunocompromised, elderly, cancer patients, nurses, employees of supermarkets, doctors, and hospitals that don’t get a single donation and I was truly inspired to make a change.”

As production of masks kicked in full swing and Hegde and her friends had excess masks, she was not sure about where to donate them. So, she decided to create a centralized database where all mask makers not only in Georgia but across the United States can find places that sew masks, and places to donate.  Her website offers four very relevant features that include a map that locates mask makers and donations, demo videos to make masks, a community channel, and a donation tab to collect funds.

With names she had collected on an initial survey, she created a map feature on the website that had a map pinpointing location in the United States that needed masks and PPE, so people who want to help can contact hospitals and other places directly and donate. Hegde’s survey also ensured that only those who were willing to share their locations showed up on the map.

“The videos and files on the website demonstrate ways to make different masks and patterns. This is the most important in-terms of reproducibility, so people who want to make their own have access to materials,” says Hegde.

The centralized community channel facilitates communication between mask makers in Georgia. “I embedded a slack on the Operations Masks GA website so mask makers from all over Georgia can come together to serve the community.”

The donation tab is meant for digital fundraising. “We are also currently collecting funds to buy fabric, filament, and more through our GoFundMe, and want to grow our network,” says the young entrepreneur.

A conversation with a Speech Pathologist who stressed on difficulties in communicating with her patients, during her 3-day program at Columbia University, led Hegde to uncover challenges faced by the hearing impaired and those who work with them, during COVID-19 times. “I myself have a deaf cousin, so I understand that masks hinder communication for the hearing impaired.”

Regular masks cover half of the face which acts as a communication barrier for many of the impaired and disabled community. Even in the special needs area, Hegde says paraprofessionals are having a “difficult time” reading facial language, which is especially of need when working with kids of special needs. Even doctors, Hegde realized had a hard time reading patients and diagnosis without a clear picture.

Recognizing this need, Hegde worked towards designing a mask that would help aid communication between doctors, patients and caregivers with hearing disabilities and special needs.

How did she design the special mask?

 “While talking with the Speech Pathologist, Dr. Thomas, I learned that a lot of the higher-pitch sounds are important for communication, and those sounds are reduced to about half of their volume when a person is wearing a face covering or a mask.”

With the data she gathered in consulting a professional in the field and some of her own experience, Hegde created masks that transmit a clear window enabling patients to see care providers’ lips when they are speaking through a 20-gauge clear plastic opening, proven breathable and safe to use. The team is also experimenting testing different gauge in plastic and different types of clear plastic that will help transmit sound waves more often than absorb. In their experimentation process, they are also testing different types of gauge in plastic and different types of clear plastic that will help transmit sound waves more often than absorb. Hegde and her team have already sent out their first batch to Columbia University, which has been well received.

“We are also currently collecting funds to buy fabric, filament, and more through our GoFundMe, and want to grow our network,” says Hegde. You may check https://operationmasksga.wixsite.com/operationmasksga to get involved or donate for the cause.

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