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Texas A&M pharmacy faculty, students help health care community during COVID-19

Pharmacy students, faculty find creative ways to provide needed items during current pandemic
five students pose in front of Rangel College of Pharmacy building wearing hand-sewn face masks

Selfless service is at the heart of Texas A&M University. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, selfless service takes on an even greater meaning, and the faculty and students at the Texas A&M Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy are living out one of the university’s core values.

From making personal protection equipment (PPE) to making hand sanitizer, the Rangel College of Pharmacy has found ways to help health care workers, health care facilities and The Texas A&M University System as the country fights to overcome the coronavirus.

A group of students led by Natalie Rosario, PharmD, MPH, BCACP, a clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the college, has started a project sewing fabric face masks to help address the shortage of PPE for health care facilities.

One student, Humberto Ramos, has taken it upon himself to use his 3-D printer to make face shields, which he has donated to Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen, Texas, where his brother is a doctor, as well as South Texas Rehabilitation Hospital in Brownsville, Texas.

Another group, led by Mansoor A. Khan, PhD, RPH, and vice dean of the College Station campus, is making hand sanitizer and providing it to all administrative offices at Texas A&M University.

“As I reflect on these challenging and unprecedented times, I am deeply moved and greatly inspired by our faculty, staff and students for their dedication, creativity, humanity, and above all, selfless service,” said Indra K. Reddy, PhD, professor and founding dean of the Rangel College of Pharmacy. “I am very humbled to be a witness to this, and I am very proud to be part of this Aggie ‘Pharmily.’”

Making masks for health care facilities

Sensing a need and looking for a way to help, third-year pharmacy student, Julio Guerra, approached Rosario in early April with the idea to create a service project that involved making fabric face masks to help address the shortage of PPE for health care facilities.

two Texas A&M pharmacy students sew face masks
Texas A&M pharmacy students sew fabric face masks to help with PPE shortages at local health care facilities

Wheels were immediately set in motion with Rosario agreeing to serve as the preceptor for the project if it was approved by the College of Pharmacy. Guerra reached out to the college’s administrative staff to discuss the logistics and received its support.

“The College of Pharmacy administration has been so supportive in helping us to connect with available resources to fund the activity,” Rosario said.

A total of 22 pharmacy students have volunteered their time to implement the project. The students spend anywhere from four to eight hours per activity day creating the face masks using the Olson pattern, which has a pocket to place a HEPA filter.

Once the project was approved, the biggest obstacle the group had to overcome was the lack of available supplies. With fabric stores closed, the group needed to get creative while maintaining physical distancing and following orders to stay at home.

“On the first service day, five 4XL T-shirts were used as the source of fabric to make the masks,” Rosario said. “On the second day, we utilized 100 percent cotton bedsheets which provided more fabric for us to work with.”

The first service day yielded 44 masks that the group sent to the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders-Arlington-USMD in Arlington, Texas, and Texas Oncology in Dallas.

A second weekend of work yielded an additional 154 masks, and the final weekend took the total masks made to more than 400. The group has sent masks to a nursing and rehabilitation center in Harlingen, Texas, and Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas.

“We have made great progress,” Rosario said.

3-D printing face shields

For Humberto Ramos the lack of personal protection equipment in health care facilities was something that hit close to home. His brother is a doctor in the Rio Grande Valley and works at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen, Texas.

In the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic the availability of PPE was something faced by health care professionals throughout the United States. Sensing a chance to help out his brother—as well as other health care workers, family and friends—Ramos turned what started as a hobby into a potential life-saving measure for those on the front lines fighting the disease.

“I was aware of the lack of personal protection equipment, and 3-D modelers had been working on face shield designs that were uploaded free of charge for 3-D printer enthusiasts to print,” Ramos said. “With almost four years of printing experience as a hobby, this was an excellent opportunity for me to provide face shields to local health care workers.”

Texas A&M College of Pharmacy student, Humberto Ramos, wears a 3-D printed face shield
Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy student, Humberto Ramos, uses 3-D printing to make face shields he donated to health care facilities in South Texas.

In late March, Ramos began printing a face shield approved by the NIH 3D Print Exchange as well as by the Columbia University Medical Center/New York-Presbyterian Hospital staff.

“The setup is very easy: a three-hole punch and a transparency,” Ramos said. “I am using polylactic acid (PLA) plastic and can print one in around 50 minutes.”

Ramos’ first batch yielded 44 face shields that he donated to Valley Baptist Medical Center. He also sent 25 face shields to the South Texas Rehabilitation Hospital, which is where he did his Fall 2019 Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experience. He has also provided face shields to family and friends.

Ramos is also working on printing face masks that he says are not an alternative to an N95 mask, but are intended to be a better plan B.

“I haven’t made as many as I would like to because of limited materials,” Ramos said. “But it is in the works to print more face masks and provide more face shields to health care workers in need.”

Hand sanitizer for Texas A&M campuses

Hand sanitizers are traditionally prepared and sold as over-the-counter drug products regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, stores were flooded with individuals purchasing the product, which is an important aspect of preventing the spread of the disease.

With a public emergency taking place and a shortage of hand sanitizers, the FDA issued guidance for entities that are not currently registered drug manufacturers that would like to prepare alcohol-based hand sanitizers for public distribution as well as their own use.

That is where Khan and his research team stepped in. The researchers began to prepare FDA-recommended hand sanitizer in their Formulation Design Development laboratories. The team made the alcohol-based hand sanitizer and put it in 16-ounce dispensers as well as gallon size refill bottles.

The dispensers and refill bottles were distributed to administrative offices throughout Texas A&M University.

“On behalf of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy for generously providing our college with FDA-recommended hand sanitizer,” wrote Eleanor M. Green, DVM, DACVIM, DABVP, the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine, in a note to Reddy. “Your college’s willingness to prepare and distribute this important commodity not only shows your exceptional collegiality, but your gallant commitment to selfless service. Thank you for your support of the CVM and for being a shining example of excellence in a time of need.”

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