Mt. Abram graduate develops inexpensive ventilator device

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Jim Richards, a Mt. Abram High School graduate, demonstrates how the AeroBreath device could be operated with a hand crank. The device can be operated via crank or a motor.

A Mt. Abram graduate and aerospace engineer has designed an inexpensive, simplified ventilator for some COVID-19 patients, capable of being operated via either a motor or a hand crank.

Jim Richards graduated from Mt. Abram High School in 1973, according to his sister, Lori Ellis. The librarian at Cape Cod Hill School, Ellis is working with Richards to get the AeroBreath ventilator to a charitable organization in Haiti.

The AeroBreath is designed to be a simple, inexpensively-manufactured device for use by people either recovering after leaving an intensive care unit or in regions of the world without access to negative-pressure ICU rooms. According to Richards, his device would help save the lives of people that don’t have access to a more-complex ventilator as well as free up additional ventilators by moving recovering patients onto the AeroBreath.

Ellis said that Richards attended MIT after graduating from Mt. Abram, going on to work at IBM and eventually going into aerospace engineering. Richards began looking into ventilators after hearing news reports of patients with COVID-19 struggling to breathe. He focused on a 15-year-old PLV-102b ventilator, seeking to replicate its most critical functions with a simple machine capable of operating with either a motor or a hand crank.

“The AeroBreath Team has been guided by consultations with Pulmonary, ICU and Internal Medicine doctors in the creation of a useful and safe device. It does not apply to all care stages or venues, but we have been helped to find the most meaningful applications,” Richards said in a letter about the project.

The device is designed to be assembled from easily-sourced parts at the cost of $100, making it a potentially useful option for areas of the world with limited access to more complex, full-capacity ventilators or ICUs. One of those places is Haiti, a country of 11.3 million people and 64 ventilators.

Ellis became involved with charitable work in Haiti through her church and had repeatedly traveled there over the years. She’s working with One Gift, One Child, a charitable organization in Haiti that works with families and communities to support the health and safety of children, seeking to keep them out of orphanages. After hearing about her brother’s project, Ellis said that she immediately thought of One Gift, One Child’s organizers, who have personnel trained in the use of medical equipment and at-risk children to care for, but no easy access to ventilators.

With the ability to operate via hand crank, Ellis said, AeroBreath could be used when transporting children to a hospital by providing breathing assistance, for example.

“We want them to go anywhere they can help,” Ellis said.

Richards and other developers hope to deliver AeroBreath ventilators for clinical trials at two U.S. healthcare institutions initially.

Ellis said she was proud of her brother’s work, saying it came out of a “great desire to help people that are basically suffocating of [COVID-19].”

“That he dropped his own life to take this on speaks volumes about him and his humanitarianism,” Ellis said. “I’m just very proud of him.”

The AeroBreath Project is accepting donations to send devices to people that may need them. More information about how to make a donation can be found here.

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