As COVID-19 bore down across Canada and the rest of the world, life changed in an instant. The National Hockey League suspended its season, social distancing began, and healthcare facilities everywhere saw a sudden, worrisome increase in admissions that few could have ever predicted.
On the frontlines at CHEO, a prominent children’s hospital in Ottawa serving eastern Ontario and western Quebec, Dr. Anna-Theresa Lobos was witnessing the burden on healthcare systems firsthand. Considering what her colleagues in other countries were enduring, especially in Italy, Spain, and China, she grew increasingly concerned that Canada’s providers would run out of personal protective equipment (PPE).
We usually use around 5,000 masks with visors per week.
“We knew the government was doing everything it could to secure PPE, but we had a fear of being faced with going to work without the right equipment,” said Lobos, Critical Care Physician and Medical Director of CHEO’s Medical Emergency Team. “We usually use around 5,000 masks with visors per week. We were really worried we were going to run out of PPE during the pandemic if we didn’t come up with different strategies.”
At the same time, CHEO had just implemented a universal masking policy to further protect its staff, patients, and partners. This meant that at all times, all healthcare providers—without exception—must wear masks with either visors or face shields, increasing the demand for PPE even more.
“There were so many unknowns, so to complement the government’s efforts, we began researching what PPE could be reused or decontaminated, specifically N95 masks,” explained Lobos. “We also looked at 3D printing materials, and based on our findings, face shields seemed like the most logical place to start.”
An initial pool of community volunteers began making face shields for CHEO, utilizing 3D printers in the community to produce three to four per hour. According to Lobos, face shields are crucial in protecting providers’ eyes, mouth, and face, and they can even prolong the life of the masks worn underneath.
Knowing this and seeking to up production, Lobos enlisted the help of longtime family friend Darcy Walsh, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Edelman Ottawa, a global communications marketing firm.
“She asked if I had the connections to get this off the ground,” recalled Walsh, “and I said, ‘Give me a day.’”
In a matter of hours, Walsh reported back to Lobos with great news. He had managed to arrange a call with HP Canada’s President, Mary Ann Yule, and his colleagues at Edelman, as well as former Senators defenceman Brandan Bell and representatives from the Ottawa Senators Foundation.
“I am very familiar with the hard work the Senators organization has always done—not just on the ice, but off the ice in the community,” Walsh said. “I also knew the Ottawa Senators team and Foundation had an existing relationship with CHEO, so it felt like a great partnership right out of the gates.”
On the call, Lobos explained the PPE problem she and her colleagues were facing, not only at CHEO but across the entire community. Met with immediate enthusiasm from all involved, HP Canada committed the use of an industrial, high-definition 3D printer, while the Ottawa Senators Foundation pledged a leading gift.
“What really floored me was how fast we received that initial commitment,” Lobos recalled. “They all just kept saying, ‘We must do this. These are our essential frontline workers, and we need to keep them safe and healthy.’”
We must do this. These are our essential frontline workers, and we need to keep them safe and healthy.
But what started out as contributions quickly turned into so much more. As ideas were exchanged, Danielle Robinson, President and CEO of the Ottawa Senators Foundation, and her staff knew that they could do more to help raise awareness for this homegrown cause.
“The thing about the Ottawa Senators Foundation is that like our hockey club, we’re a real community team and operate at the grassroots level,” said Robinson. “Dr. Lobos and Mr. Walsh have seen the impact of that work we’re doing in the community and we’re very proud that as a result they wanted us to be part of this.”
Thus, the Sens Shielding Heroes Campaign was born. Within the first 12 days, $250,000 had already been raised thanks to a handful of gifts from corporate donors and other organizations. And after HP Canada innovated a face shield prototype, which was applauded by Lobos and the medical repurposing team at CHEO, the design was approved by Health Canada.
“To have the stamp of approval from a governing body like that and have a face shield that was done so well—and so quickly—makes us proud that the Ottawa Senators Foundation can be a part of this,” Robinson said.
“Everyone’s willingness to work around the clock to get this done—knowing we’re in a time crunch—shows the true passion in this community to help each other when it counts the most,” said Lobos.
From there, the full-fledged campaign began producing more than 2,100 face shields per week. An extremely economical solution, these face shields cost only $12 each to manufacture, a price that Lobos noted is hard to find for this type of PPE. And not only are they completely recyclable, but they can also be sterilized and reused by providers up to three or four times.
This campaign is a win on so many levels.
“Before this all started, we had face shields that you’d use once and then chuck in the garbage,” said Lobos. “Until now, I had never put any PPE in a recycling bin that would be sent to medical reprocessing. Sure, we’ve reprocessed surgical tools and other equipment, but never anything like this.”
“The face shields themselves are also very comfortable, light, and easy to wear,” she continued. “Providers actually want to wear them because they’re not big, bulky, or exhausting. This campaign is a win on so many levels.”
Every week, the effort is supplying CHEO with 1,100 face shields sending 800 more to an additional Ottawa-area hospitals, with the recipient rotating amongst six facilities. Further, 500 face shields benefit a rural hospital per week, with recipients rotating between Almonte, Arnprior, Carleton Place, Perth, Renfrew, and Smiths Falls.
Heavily supported by Senators alumni like Bell, current players, and head coach D.J. Smith, the Sens Shielding Heroes Campaign is aiming to achieve a fundraising goal of $500,000. These funds will help to ensure that these hospitals and care centers remain supplied with the crucial PPE needed by the heroes on the frontlines of this pandemic.
“Small or large, any donation will help. All it takes is a $12 donation to enable protection for a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional,” Robinson said. “Our healthcare providers are truly selfless and risking their lives to keep our community safe, so we’re trying to do what we believe is right.”
Thanks to the leadership and support from Alstom, Claridge Homes, Edelman, Horizant, HP Canada, Nautical Lands Corp, and the Thistledown Foundation, face shields and frames are now arriving in local hospitals and long-term care homes across the region.
Support for the Sens Shielding Heroes Campaign can be given in one of two ways. Cheques can be mailed to the Ottawa Senators Foundation at 1000 Palladium Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, K2V 1A5. Or, contributions can be made online with a credit card. Organizations that would like to be invoiced for a corporate donation can contact Danielle Robinson at 613-559-0174.