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Boca Raton seamstress donates thousands of masks designed by UF to Cleveland Clinic

Innovative masks being used at Weston hospital
Posted at 10:00 AM, May 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 11:21:54-04

BOCA RATON, Fla. — The demand for masks is nothing new as the world works to contain coronavirus, but there is a new design.

The University of Florida College of Medicine's Department of Anesthesiology developed a mask design using materials already found in hospitals and medical facilities.

The innovative mask is made from sterile wrapping that is normally used to surround surgical instrument trays before use and then the material is just thrown away.

"This stuff is the real deal," said Mansour Dagher, a certified anesthesiologist assistant at Cleveland Clinic in Weston. "That's what it's made for, to protect surgical equipment from the outside environment, and this is typically just thrown away. When you open the equipment, you just throw it in the garbage and we have so much of it that is thrown away every day."

Dagher and his family live in Boca Raton.

When his hospital got wind of the concept their counterparts at UF Health came up with, staff immediately began saving the material and looking for volunteers in the community to help produce them.

Dagher said his wife thought of Lori Breiner-Wyllie, who owns Sew Much Fun in Boca Raton, a one-stop-shop for local sewists.

They reached out and before he knew it, Dagher said, he couldn't get the material to Breiner-Wyllie fast enough.

"She said of course she's willing to help. And I'm like, 'Yeah, OK, I'll bring some material for you,'" said Dagher. "And I brought a whole big bag and then she said, 'This is it?' I'm like, 'Yeah, this is it.' She's like, 'Well, I have an army of people waiting to sew these masks,' so it took off from there."

Breiner-Weilly said when the coronavirus first hit, she and her colleagues got right to work, sewing at least 1,500 masks for nursing homes and assisted living centers.

"It's been an unusual time," said Breiner-Weilly. "You know, my business has been turned upside down. We don't usually do this kind of work. Usually we are teaching classes and selling things to people who are sewers, but, you know, this is just so totally out of the box. So it's been good to do something different."

When Dagher's request came across the table, she took the request and ran with it. Now, with the help of her customer base and members of the American Sewing Guild, she estimates they've created more than 3,000 masks.

The Cleveland Clinic offered to compensate her, but she refused.

"Everyone has their own calling but most of us are feeling that, you know, we are doing our little bit to help, you know, keep those people safe, so in case we need them some day, they'll be there to help us, you know," said Breiner-Weilly. "It really is paying it forward."

Dagher said because Breiner-Weilly and her team have sewn so many masks with the sterile material he has provided, other departments in the hospital have been able to receive them.

She said wherever he goes around the Cleveland Clinic, he sees staff wearing the blue masks.

Dagher wears his while in the operating room.

He is not treating COVID-19 patients and prefers not to use up the highly demanded N-95 masks.

Dagher said this mask alternative has a very tight seal and is comfortable.

"It's such a good seal around and I know that for a fact because I wear glasses," said Dagher. "The fogging effect is so much less with this type of mask than the other masks, so I know that it is sealing better."

The University of Florida has developed two prototypes for masks that can be produced in large quantities using the materials already found in hospitals and medical facilities.

UF said it received an overwhelming amount of masks from many volunteers in the community when it first put out the request to local sewists. UF has a patent pending on the face mask.