La Cañada High School junior J.T. Salcido has kept busy so far during his school’s hiatus on coronavirus social distancing, and now, spring break is set to get even busier.
Salcido has launched the “LCHS Cares” project, an effort to print 3-D face shields to help hospital workers protect themselves and others during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The idea came up when Salcido, 17, said his father, Craig, who works at an Orange County hospital, began seeing patients with respirator masks. The doctor had heard 3-D digital masks might be possible for health care workers, and asked his tech-savvy son if he might lend a hand.
Salcido didn’t know how to determine printer quality, but thought he could reach out to his LCHS science teacher for help.
“We have the resources, why not do it?” Salcido said he remembered thinking. “What can we do to improve [this situation] rather than just wait it out?”
Just as he was about to begin the process and a GoFundMe campaign for the project, Salcido was informed that an uncle and two younger cousins who live in Spain were infected with the coronavirus, bringing the pandemic even closer to home, although the extended family is expected to recover.
Salcido said he had been in contact with USC Verdugo Hills Hospital officials, who were supportive of the face shield idea, and meanwhile, texted LCHS science teacher Ryan Hainey to see if he could use the printers for the project. This led to a three-way conversation with Salcido, Hainey and LCHS Principal Jim Cartnal over using two 3-D printers.
“I was able to vouch for J.T. and that persuaded him to be OK with sharing the resource,” Hainey said. “He’s remarkably professional and mature for a student his age.”
While school property is typically not loaned out, the special cause being launched during coronavirus precautions is worth making an exception for, Cartnal noted, saying “That’s the very purpose of school.”
Hainey, who also knows Salcido through the improvisational group Comedy Sportz, said he was surprised at his student’s interest in a science-based effort, since the young man is known to typically prefer more art-based endeavors.
“His strengths are in leadership and the arts,” Hainey said. “But he was driven by his desire to help.”
Salcido had reached out to Hainey on a Monday, and by Wednesday had organized a conference call to discuss how to proceed with the project.
“That was incredible — he came up with the idea, and I helped with resources and the knowledge with 3D printing and gave organization,” Hainey said, explaining that 3-D printing is really “just like it sounds,” where it prints 3-D objects using a plastic filament.
It takes between one to three hours to print the headband/visor portion of the face shield, and Hainey estimates that each mask costs about $1.50 to produce. Each printer could potentially make about 15 masks a day.
Salcido said he initially used a USC design but that took “way too long” to print, and then worked with the university to find an alternative design that is similar, but found only a pattern used for healthcare workers not dealing directly with patients infected with COVID-19.
On Tuesday night, he said he developed a way to print the USC headbands effectively.
“Therefore, we are now officially supporting doctors directly,” Salcido said.
The young man then reached out to his advanced theater instructor Justin Eick to ask if he had a template to create a promotional flyer for the 3-D printer project’s GoFundMe page.
Typically, Eick designs all the ads, posters and marketing materials for the plays at the high school, and jumped on board to help, designing a poster with the slogan “LCHS Cares”.
Eick also donated some elastic bands to attach the face shield to the headband.
“This is a cross-curriculum collaboration between different departments that don’t ordinarily have an opportunity to work together,” Eick said of the collaboration between the science and theater departments. “Once [Salcido] procured the 3-D printers for it, I was happy to step in and offer whatever assistance I could for creating a flyer and some sort of slogan. J.T. is doing all the actual work.”
Another student helping Salcido is LCHS junior Audrey Melillo, who is also his girlfriend. She helped edit the language for the GoFundMe request and helped market the request via Instagram to raise money.
“I think resilience during these troubled times is absolutely vital,” Melillo said. “I will provide any support — moral or otherwise — to help this get completed.”
Salcido was printing out the objects on Monday after having to switch designs due to an initial printing and heating error, noting that so far, he’s been able to create five successful face protectors.
If he reaches the point where he is unable to print anymore masks, or has further printing problems and cannot continue, any of the extra money would be donated to local hospitals, Salcido emphasized.
But by late Monday, the young man was able to procure at least two more printers and is looking to purchase more 3-D printers. When the coronavirus pandemic is over, he said, he plans to donate the printers back to LCHS.
As of April 6, the GoFundMe account had raised $2,870 of its initial $1,100 goal.
“Right now is a scary time, and yet J.T. has fully embraced the idea that we have to think globally but act locally,” Eick said.
For more information on “LCHS Cares,” visit the GoFundMe account “LCHS CARES: COVID-19 Relief,” or click on gofundme.com/f/lchs-covid19/donate/sign-in.