Doctors in Need of Protective Eyewear Turn to Ski Goggles

ski goggles
Emergency physician Mike Halperin, left, and healthcare worker Blanca Velez with Halperin’s goggles outside a COVID-19 tent in the Bronx, New York, on Monday.Photo: Courtesy of Mike Halperin/POWDER Magazine

It started with a phone call from New York City to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Mike Halperin, an emergency physician at a pair of hospitals in the Bronx, had, like many healthcare workers around the world, grown concerned about the dwindling supply of personal protective equipment needed to treat patients with the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

He’d grown up skiing with his aunt and uncle, Rachel Bellis and Harv Holtzman, and wondered if they might have some extra goggles that he could use if he and his coworkers ran out of face shields. He called them on Friday, March 27.

By then, he had taken to using the same shield all day, cleaning it between patients to preserve the supply. He figured goggles could help perform one procedure in particular: intubating patients, or placing a tube down their throats to allow them to breathe on a ventilator.

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His hospitals already had hundreds of COVID-19 patients with respiratory problems, part of New York’s astonishing number of infected patients overall: more than 75,000 as of Tuesday, within striking distance of the total in all of China.

“It’s a procedure we do all the time, and it’s always been dangerous for the patient—it’s pretty commonly the most dangerous five minutes of someone’s hospital stay,” Halperin, 40, said. “But now it’s become the most dangerous five minutes for the provider as well,” because he or she must operate within inches of the patient’s mouth and nose, risking infection. “Using goggles is a natural solution to that issue.”

There is still a chance that scientists could someday determine the virus is aerosolized after all, he explained, and he likes the sealed protection that goggles offer.

His aunt and uncle relayed Halperin’s request to a handful of friends in other ski towns, who sent it to more friends, and on Saturday morning one of those friends, ski-racing coach Karin Tanenbaum, sent it to her own small circle. Jon Schaefer was drinking his morning coffee at home in Hawley, Massachusetts, when Tanenbaum’s email popped up on his phone.

More information about how to donate to Goggles for Docs can be found here.

Schaefer, 39, is the general manager of Berkshire East and Catamount (where Tanenbaum coaches), two small resorts in western Massachusetts that his family owns. After hearing about an early outbreak of the virus nearby, he’d closed both areas for the season on March 12, making them the first resorts in America to shut down due to the pandemic.

Schaefer vetted the idea with a few friends in healthcare; they confirmed goggles could offer adequate, if not ideal, protection from the virus. He decided to spearhead a crowdsourcing effort and built the first spreadsheet to start tracking donations that afternoon.

By then, Halperin had found three more New York hospitals that needed protective eyewear. Schaefer publicized his plan Saturday evening on social media. By Sunday morning, his inbox was filled with people who wanted to donate goggles.

A couple of hours later, Schaefer was on his way home from buying groceries for his elderly, homebound parents when Gregg Blanchard, vice president at the tech company Inntopia, got in touch and offered to build a website to manage donations. Suddenly ‘Goggles for Docs’ was formed.

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A well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur named Kenta Takamori, who owns a ski resort in Japan and grew up skiing with Schaefer at Berkshire East, helped him design a Google Doc to track donor pledges in real time—so that each hospital would only get what it needed and subsequent donations could go to the next location. The goggles are overnighted to each hospital, where they’re disinfected by medical staff.

“We started Sunday with six hospitals,” Schaefer said, “and we ended the day with 11 in seven states, in need of about 4,000 goggles.” On Monday, he organized a team of regional coordinators for each state, who are managing local distribution to the various hospitals.

Nearly a dozen staff from his own ski areas are working on the project, along with volunteers. “We’ve now had interest from folks in New Zealand and Spain to do the same thing there,” he said.

Schaefer said his resorts have lost “easily hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue, not factoring in summer which is our busiest season,” due to the pandemic. But on a rainy New England weekend with no skiing available, the sport had suddenly given dozens of people purpose again.

ski goggles
Donated ski goggles are collected, distributed, and sanitized before use. Photo: Courtesy of Mike Halperin/POWDER Magazine

 

“Everybody’s sitting at home right now with nothing to do, and they want to help,” Schaefer said. “That’s one of the most distressing things about this pandemic, is we can’t come together, and we can’t help. But here’s one little thing that we can do, which is clean out your gear box and send in your goggles. And it resonates with people.”

Halperin, meanwhile, was fresh off another long shift spent staring the virus in the face Monday night, only this time he’d kept skiing front of mind—literally. “I was walking around all day with my goggles on my head,” he chuckled, a moment of levity in a city under siege.

More information about how to donate to Goggles for Docs can be found here.

This article originally appeared on Powder.com and was republished with permission.

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