Dunwoody College instructor uses tech expertise to craft ‘ear savers’ for health care workers

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The COVID-19 pandemic is not only having an emotional toll on our health care workers, but it can also take a physical toll — specifically from personal protective equipment.

One example is strain on ears from wearing masks. Not only can they cause physical pain, but Mary Willner, a senior staff nurse with Hennepin County Medical Center, tells KSTP they can also cause headaches.

“We’re used to wearing PPE, but it’s the extended amount of time that we’re required to wear it," Willner said. "We’re definitely feeling how uncomfortable it is."

“If you can imagine you’re wearing a mask and eyeglasses for 8, 10, 12 hours a day it creates a lot of strain,” Willner added.

In response, Dunwoody College of Technology instructor Jazmine Darden is supporting health care workers by using her talents with 3D printing to create "ear savers."

The ear savers attach to a person’s mask so it can be worn without putting strain on the ears. Darden has already sent out hundreds of ear savers since she started making them.

“I have 22 printers running down here right now,” Darden told KSTP on a video call from her basement, which she calls "The Lab." “I just can’t keep up with the orders. I just sent a package out to California yesterday for 300.”

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Darden has been running her 3D printers all day, but she still can’t keep up with the demand. To help, she’s connected with a manufacturer that can help her create thousands a day — right now she can turn out about 300 a day — with injection molding. But first, she has to pay for the mold, which would run her $4,500.

“It’s just kind of this initial push to get the mold made and started. [Then] they said they can print out about 10,000 a day,” Darden said.

She’s been donating the ear savers, and she wants to continue to do that and create the mold to help many more. She’s created a GoFundMe page that has gathered steam but still needs more to accomplish her goal of $10,000. According to the page, those funds could pay for 20,000 masks.

“It’s an emotional roller coaster,” Darden said.

“I feel great pride to be able to help. By the end of each day, I’m like, ‘Why did I get myself into this?’ But then as the messages come in, it’s a great reminder — especially as people get the packages and they’re sending me pictures of them wearing them, and just seeing how much it’s been able to help. I’m just so grateful that I’m able to help out.”