Ventilator shortage during coronavirus? 3-D printing could save lives

UC anesthesiologist discusses ventilators

Imagine printing a three-dimensional piece of plastic that could help save a coronavirus patient’s life. 3-D printing is one solution proposed to address an expected shortage of ventilators, machines that keep patients whose lungs are severely damaged alive.  Experts are expecting a shortages of ventilators as the number of people impacted by the coronavirus pandemic grows in the U.S.

Ventilators work through a breathing tube inserted into a person’s windpipe. The machine inflates the lungs with air and then deflates the lungs, removing carbon dioxide. A medical professional uses a computer to control the amount of pressure placed on the lungs and the amount of oxygen.

Coronavirus patients are at risk of pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome, which has a high mortality rate. Dr. Suzanne Bennett, an associate professor at the UC College of Medicine and an anesthesiologist at UC Health, discussed the workings of ventilators.

A traditional ventilator costs about $25,000 to $50,000. Bennett said some of the “bells and whistles" on a hospital-grade ventilator help medical professionals operate the machine effectively, and reduce the workload for respiratory therapists. With a shortage, respiratory therapists would be spread thin.

“I think all of us are concerned with the safety of that patient in that situation,” she said.

Read the interview with Dr. Bennett.