Improvise, Adapt and Overcome
Adam and Matt Beckett are problem solvers. As the world faces a period of uncertainty, these Columbia brothers found an opportunity to help. Drawing from their deep ties to Mizzou, experience in the Marine Corps, and personal calling to healthcare volunteerism, they created an innovative tool to help healthcare workers in the global fight against COVID-19.
Alumni of the College of Arts and Science with degrees in Biological Sciences and Political Science, respectively, Adam and Matt come from a Mizzou family going back several generations. They also come from a Marine Corps family. Following in their father’s footsteps along with their two younger brothers, they joined in the spirit of duty to others, to something bigger than themselves. Adam credits the Marine Corps for training them to “stay confident and focused on their mission.” These dual experiences, higher education in the College of A&S and service in the Marine Corps, shaped their ability to improvise and quickly act with flexibility and creatively: crucial skills for their futures.
Like all of us, Adam and Matt are facing personal challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Describing it as a “profound generational experience,” Adam has been directly impacted by the weight of this crisis. An emergency physician, he’s on the front lines providing care for patients at University Hospital in Columbia. Matt, a real estate broker, faces different but very real challenges. He’s had to be flexible in the way buyers tour homes, either through virtual or no-touch visits, where the doors are open and all lights are turned on before buyers arrive. At home, Matt’s three children, two of them Mizzou students, are adjusting to remote learning. They’ve found ways to make it work. This is a family that adapts.
It seems natural then, that when they see a way to help, they jump right in.
Hospitals across the country and around the world face critical shortages of personal protective equipment to shield healthcare workers from this extremely contagious disease, and to prevent its spread in patient care areas. Masks help slow the virus’s spread, but masks can also cause problems if a patient needs to be intubated.
Adam’s experiences in the hospital, adaptive spirit and creative problem-solving skills led to a brainstorming session with Matt on what they could do to help. Their idea? Create a barrier around the patient that would reduce the potential for contamination, enable easier intubation and preserve dwindling supplies of masks. They also thought this barrier could be used by emergency responders in ambulances, reducing the amount of time vehicles are taken offline for sanitizing after transporting a patient.
Intubation shields already exist, but are bulky and prohibitively expensive at upward of $300 each. For inspiration on how to make a simple, low-cost alternative, Matt headed to Lowe’s. Using PVC pipe, pipe fittings and collision wrap (clear plastic made for temporary car windows), they crafted a prototype. These respiration protection chambers form a transparent cube around the patient’s head, allowing access for medical staff while shielding them and the open air from contamination. After a trial run in the emergency room at University Hospital in Columbia, the chamber prototype was a success. Even better? They were only $8 to make.
Now the brothers had a final challenge to overcome: production. They could only make so many themselves. Volunteers were not hard to come by, however, thanks to Global First Responder, the nonprofit Adam founded after he left the Marine Corps.
Earthquakes in Haiti were the genesis of Global First Responder (GFR). Volunteering following a series of devastating earthquakes near Port-au-Prince in 2010 was an “eye-opening experience” for Adam. After seeing the devastation and destruction, he knew that international medical service was something he needed to be a part of. Growing from this single experience to today, the nonprofit has worked in 14 countries around the world and now launches roughly 10 trips a year. Each mission sends 5-20 volunteers depending on the project. Beyond their own trips, GFR’s database of partner agencies has created a network of nonprofits to work together in addressing global health needs.
GFR’s meticulously planned missions pack in not only medical services, but construction, solar technology, education and other support for these communities in need. Matt has been a part of several GFR humanitarian relief efforts. “We have incredibly limited resources on those trips, which means we nearly always need to improvise,” Matt said. It’s why he and Adam could take this respiratory protection chamber idea from dream to reality. Every mission is carried out by a network of passionate volunteers who pay their own way to participate. “We all get charged up when there’s a way to help out,” said Matt.
When the call went out for volunteers, then, it was met with an enthusiastic response from the GFR network and the Mizzou community. A Mizzou flag goes on every trip the brothers take: University of Missouri physicians and nurses are among the GFR volunteer corps, and the relationships and friendships from their school years at MU lend more helpers to the pool.
Meeting up in Adam’s garage, the group follows strict social distancing procedures. “He won’t let me come near him, he’s ultra-safe,” Matt said of Adam’s adherence to protocols. “I’ve never seen him so serious.” Volunteers have made so many chambers that there isn’t a half-inch pipe fitting or square foot of collision wrap left in central Missouri. At last count, 40 units had been distributed to MU Health Care, Boone Hospital and Moberly Regional Medical Center. They need additional funding to produce more.
Since the day Adam took the chambers to work at University Hospital and got a thumbs-up from his fellow emergency physicians, things have been moving fast. Improvements have already been made. Now the chambers are collapsible, making them easier to transport.
The brothers have always aimed for the greater good, seeking a cost-effective solution that could be easily replicated in light of the ongoing crisis. A few days after designing their model for the respiratory chamber, they shared the concept on multiple social media chains. They are busy writing plans that they intend to share with other hospitals. Adam and Matt are also creating and documenting protocols for emergency rooms and ambulances on how to use them effectively. Bottom line: they’re simple to use and re-use by tearing off the old wrap and putting on a new sheet.
These respiration protection chambers aren’t their only big idea. The brothers are finalizing the development of decontamination units, equipment that can be used outside of hospitals and other points of potential infection in case there is a surge in cases.
They’re also consulting with Hallsville, Missouri-based construction company WCS Homes on modular units in shipping containers for patient testing, or for solar-powered, self-sustaining clinics. In the past, GFR has worked with the Naval hospital ship USNS Comfort, currently docked in New York City. If they are asked to work with the USNS Comfort again, you can bet they will answer the call.
Matt humbly reflected on this experience, on how rewarding it is, and how energizing the ability to help can be. “We’re out here just trying to keep hope alive.”
Adam agreed, “Everybody’s got a skill that they can contribute.”
If you would like to learn about how you can help support Global First Responder with this and other projects, please visit https://globalfirstresponder.org/.
MU Health Care also has ways to help, and can be found at https://www.muhealth.org/coronavirus/give.