AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) - Amid a ventilator shortage at hospitals across the country, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine has worked to create a research ventilator that can provide respiratory support to twelve patients at once. Dr. Thomas Greany said his college roommate who is now an ER Doctor in San Francisco called him in early March asking for his help with the ventilator shortage.
"He asked 'do you think there's a way you could cook up a multi-patient ventilator, short that would just provide basic respiratory support," Dr. Greany told CBS4.
After that phone call, in just two weeks Dr. Greany designed a ventilator that could provide respiratory support for 12 patients at once.
"They don't all get air at once but it takes either hospital air or a pump, mixes that with oxygenated air," he explained. "And distributes it through control system valves, and kind of says it where it needs to go."
The research ventilator is designed to move air between three groups of four patients.
"When the patients are exhaling in the air goes elsewhere to another group of patients," he said.
He says the COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered a shortage of personal protection equipment and ventilators at hospitals across the world. The idea is this could provide doctors a backup device, so they don't have to choose who gets respiratory treatment and who doesn't.
"There are people who are so sick that may not be expected to live and might be denied a ventilator," he explained. "We scrambled pretty hard to try to find a solution so we wouldn't have ER doctors having nothing to offer."
The 12-person ventilator was built by a team, and was successfully tested. While it's not FDA approved, it provides a sense of preparedness knowing it works.
"A lot of people are saying the vent crisis is behind us, I might be cautious about saying that," Dr. Greany said. "Do you know if we have a resurgence of the illness? It's possible we could find ourselves short again."
Dr. Greany said the project took a lot of teamwork, but this piece of equipment is state of the art.
"It's been one of the most gratifying things I've done in my career," he said.
Dr. Greany said they have created more prototypes to test on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. The School of Medicine said UCHealth has shown interest in this device as well.
Greany has been collaborating with another CU engineering alumnus, Ken Lambrecht, who created the project website, FieldVent.org.
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