Surgeon finds new way to give back

Using a hobby to become a vital source of safety equipment

COVID-19 has affected us all in a variety of ways. Like many of us, it forced Robert J. Cionni, MD, an ophthalmologist at The Eye Institute of Utah in Salt Lake City, to spend a lot more time at home. “We were unclear at first what the impact might be, but by mid-March things were pretty clear. We were soon down to only a half day of clinic time a week, so there was lots of time for other things.”

With an increased amount of free time on his hands, Dr. Cionni decided to put it to good use. After learning of the pending shortage of PPE in the area and throughout the country, he employed his passion for 3D printing to create face masks and shields for health-care providers and first responders putting their lives at risk on the front lines of care.

Dr. Cionni has been working with a volunteer group called “Salt Lake City Fighting COVID.” Once a particular design is decided upon by a group needing the PPE, the print file information is loaded onto the printer and the process begins. Each face shield model can take about 30 minutes to print, while N95 masks take as long as 5 hours each. Once the PPE is printed, Dr. Cionni delivers it to a specified location so that it can be sent to the group needing it.

The most recent request came from the Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah. They requested 40 N95 masks for an eye clinic in Haiti that had to close due to a lack of PPE. Thanks to this volunteer group and the efforts of Sophia Ying Fang, MD, a fellow at the Moran Eye Center, the masks were sent and soon the clinic will be able to re-open.

Since the middle of April, Dr. Cionni has printed more than 200 masks and face shields, and his efforts continue on a daily basis. “I like the creative part of making things, so 3D printing fit me well. Now, it feels good to be able to create things that are put to work in situations where they are truly needed.”