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Lynnfield doctor thinks out of the box to fight COVID-19

By Thor Jourgensen | April 2, 2020

LYNNFIELD — Dr. Julie Tammaro stepped up to fight coronavirus by adapting her medical skills to become an innovator and inventor. 

A Lowell General Hospital anesthesiologist, Tammaro customized a design for an “intubation box,” a protection safeguard that medical personnel fit over the head and upper shoulders of a coronavirus patient who has been fitted with a breathing tube. 

Working with her brother-in-law, fellow Lynnfield resident and self-described “serial entrepreneur” Ian Brady, Tammaro adapted a box design used in Taiwan, ordered experimental versions of her design through a Chicago firm and, after perfecting it, contracted to get the box made by Maine-based company, Plas-Tech. 

And she did it all in a matter of days. 

“There was a need with the discussion about protective gear. Everywhere you go, you’re hearing about hospital workers being infected,” Tammaro said. 

With its see-through sides, the intubation box measures slightly less than two feet in length and width. Tammaro, a physician since 2011 and mother of four, described the box as “reverse protection” for medical workers: It is worn by the patients, not the person treating the patient. 

Well aware of her fellow medical professionals’ struggles to stay safe while treating coronavirus on the frontlines of the fight against the disease, Tammaro searched a week ago for ways to improve protective gear. 

After coming upon the Taiwanese design, she called Brady, who jumped at the challenge. An initial quest to get the suitable building material from Home Depot fell flat. Brady was undeterred and found the Chicago manufacturer willing to take on the job. 

“In 24 hours, they built two prototypes and overnight shipped them to us,” he said.

By March 25, the box was getting tested out in a hospital even as Tammaro and Brady raced to find a manufacturer to produce a large box order. Brady said Plas-Tech stepped up to the challenge. 

Brady set up a website, intubationbox.org with a GoFundMe page linked to the site to help raise money to pay production costs. Each box costs about $200 to make and shipping costs are being contained by harnessing volunteers to get the boxes shipped.

When they learned West Coast innovators had also set up a site, intubationbox.com, Brady and Tammaro decided to fill primarily eastern U.S. box orders while intubationbox.com handled western orders. 

“We agreed to divide and conquer,” he said. 

He said more than 40 hospitals have requested intubation boxes and the first production order is set at 100 boxes with Tammaro envisioning orders being sent to medical facilities around the northeastern U.S. 

“We want to get it into people’s hands quickly,” Tammaro said. 

Brady is surprised by how quickly social media and an urge to innovate turned Tammaro’s plan into action. Her design is already being improved with “seal caps” to provide added safety for medical workers. 

Tammaro said all medical professionals share a desire to harness innovations to battle coronavirus.

“The collective knowledge is there to make huge leaps to keep us all safe,” she said.