Doctor works to convert CPAP machines to respirators

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids doctor is working with engineers to convert CPAP machines into air respirators for first responders.

Dr. Kathi Wilson with the Center for Sleep Apnea and TMJ on Cascade Road started collecting CPAP machines, which are usually used by people who have breathing issues like sleep apnea, on Tuesday.

“I’m super frustrated not being able to do anything with the shutdown, and I feel like I can’t make a difference right now and I find that to be very depressing and frustrating,” Wilson said. “As soon as I thought of a way that I could make a difference too, I thought, ‘This is fantastic.’”

Wilson, in conjunction with Missouri-based Hunter Engineering, is taking old CPAP machines that are no longer needed to make them to air respirators for doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients.

“Health care workers who are on the front lines are exposed to a higher load of virus. And therefore, they are getting sicker and really suffering more than if you were just exposed, say, at the grocery store,” Wilson said.

The idea originally began with a doctor in Missouri. Hunter Engineering says it usually makes alignment equipment for vehicles. This is its first time manufacturing medical equipment.

“We take the air purification motor out of (the CPAP machine) and we couple that with another filtration system that has the capacity to filter out viruses at the microbial level and basically supply fresh air that’s purified for the first responder,” Gail DeYoung with Hunter Engineering explained.

The device is a full-face mask similar to a scuba mask. It has a tube connected to a belt where the filtration system is mounted on the health care workers’ waist. The respirator is battery operated.

Hunter Engineering says it has 400 workers across the nation who are now focusing a large part of their efforts on this because regular manufacturing demand has slowed drastically.

The process of converting a CPAP machine into a respirator takes about two days.

After getting an emergency use permit from the Food and Drug Administration earlier this week, the company sent out around 150 respirators to hospitals across the nation.

“There’s no loss in helping on this cause,” DeYoung said.

With each respirator created, makers are hoping they can save a first responder’s life.

“Even if it seems like things are getting better now, I think it’s so important to replenish the stockpile to make sure if we do have a flare-up or anything else comes up, we have the equipment ready to go,” Wilson said.

To continue this project, the Center for Sleep Apnea is holding a CPAP donation drive now through 4:30 p.m. Thursday. People who wish to donate can take the machines to 4820 Cascade Road, Grand Rapids, MI 49546.

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