An engineer came up with a way to make ventilators affordable. Like, 93% more affordable.
Venti-Now.org
True

John Molander is not a typical retiree. At 63 years old, his face lights up when discussing his unusually large family (he's one of nine children!) and hobbies (teaching college kids how to safely gut and rebuild a home destroyed by natural disaster). But what really gets him excited is talking about his latest invention: a groundbreakingly affordable emergency ventilator.

Molander is an inventor, through and through. Problem-solving and innovation is in his DNA — a quality that served him well through his 34-year career with Procter & Gamble. And now, plunged into the pandemic health crisis, he's fighting against an invisible enemy.

In the months leading up to March 2020, Molander traveled the globe as a consultant offering solutions to a variety of complex problems, from figuring out why huge sea vessels sink when they hit icebergs to fixing houses after hurricanes. In his spare time, he sipped coffee in his quiet sunroom, watching the birds and pondering how to improve his golf handicap. Running a medical nonprofit was not in the forefront of his mind. Then the pandemic hit.


Procter & Gamble

"I started getting these notes from my sister, Karin [Molander], who is the National Director for the National Sepsis Alliance. She treats COVID-19 patients in the Bay Area," Molander told Upworthy. "She's on the front lines of this crisis. She asked me, 'John, what are we going to do? We can see a tidal wave coming our way. Could you do anything to help us with ventilators?'"

As it turns out, he could.

Molander set out to assemble a team of FDA experts, designers, doctors, engineers, and biomedical engineering professors. "Virtually everyone I talked to immediately put their hand in the air," he said, expressing amazement and gratitude at how quickly people jumped in with both feet to volunteer their time and talent.

Three weeks later, the team was testing their prototype on mannequins. By week four, Molander donned full personal protective equipment (PPE) to meet with doctors and respiratory therapists as they viewed demonstrations of the ventilators. Taking their feedback back to the lab, Venti-Now perfected the design. By week five, they were granted FDA Emergency Use Authorization.

"It's just bloody amazing to describe it," he said. "The FDA was fabulous...They worked on Easter weekend to push this out."

The team knew the ventilator required special design and assembly considerations in order to be viable in the current crisis. With that in mind, they designed a unit that could be easily and quickly fabricated and assembled, using in-stock and readily available medical-grade materials. Molander describes the design as "elegantly simple," made to be portable and durable, with only one moving part. The device weighs just 14 pounds, the average weight of a well-fed house cat.

Venti-Now demo www.youtube.com

The Venti-Now Class II medical device connects to hospital compressed air and has pressure monitors to make sure air is flowing at a rate that doesn't harm the patient. But it's a simpler unit than high-tech ventilators most hospitals now use, and because it can run on a small air compressor, it can be used for rural and developing countries. It's also a lot less expensive. Venti-Now's likely price is below $4,000, Molander said, while high-end units can sell for $55,000.

Additionally, because yes, there's more, this design helps answer the staggering global demand for ventilators. To put it in perspective, the population of Africa is 1.2 billion, and there are 2,000 operable ventilators. In Tanzania, when someone is put on a ventilator, the family works in shifts around the clock to squeeze the bag valve mask, which keeps the lungs working.

"If our machine can intervene before a patient has to be intubated, then two thumbs up," said Molander. "This is a war, and the viral attacker knows no borders."

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

Indeed, more Americans have died from this virus than were killed in the Vietnam War, and Molander believes that we each have a role to play in combating this invisible enemy. It takes an army to fight; the soldiers are the doctors and nurses on the front lines fighting this virus, but we also have a 'citizen army.'

Holding up a mask, Molander urges everyone out there to follow CDC guidelines. "You don't wear the mask to protect yourself. We wear the mask to protect our fellow citizens," he said. "It's a small sacrifice to make … and it's a small thing that makes a big difference."

Turn your everyday actions into acts of good every day at P&G Good Everyday.

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

via Travis Akers / Twitter

A tweet thread by Travis Akers, a Navy Lieutenant with 17 years of service, is going viral because it shows just how sweet children can be and also points to an overlooked issue facing military families.

In the early morning of April 12, Akers tweeted a photo of himself and his seven-year-old son Tanner who he affectionately calls "Munchie." Akers was moved because his son set his alarm clock so he could get up early enough to hand him a pocket full of Legos before work.

Tanner wanted to be sure his father had something to play with at the Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida. "This was my daily morning trip to base, departing my house at six am for work," Akers told Upworthy.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less