WMU professor develops face shields to make children safer at school

Contact: Erin Flynn

Dr. Alessander Danna-dos-Santos, left, distributes face shields at Pre-K International in Kalamazoo. He created and donated dozens of them to give young students an added layer of protection.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Dozens of children will enter the school year with an added layer of protection thanks to a partnership between Western Michigan University's Laboratory for Advances in Rehabilitation Sciences and Synergy Applied Medical and Research Inc. Dr. Alessander Danna-dos-Santos spearheaded the project.

"Some weeks ago, someone mentioned the low quality and relative high costs of children's face shields," says Danna-dos-Santos, an associate professor of physical therapy. Having a health care background rooted in problem-based learning, he immediately started researching the issue. "I came to the same conclusion that we could do better in quality and bring the costs down."

Students wear the face shields while playing outside.

A conversation with the owner of Pre-K International in Kalamazoo confirmed a need for more protection for kids on school buses in her district, so Danna-dos-Santos hopped on his computer and began designing prototypes.

"I created several CAD (computer-aided design) drawings for the head support, looking for a combination of being light, strong, flexible, easy to clean, able to attach to hats (to facilitate their use outdoors) and safe," he says, emphasizing that the shields are meant to be used in addition to face masks to protect the eyes and prevent the potential spread of infection. "I 3D-printed the head support using ABS plastic and attached clear shields that are readily available in local markets."

Danna-dos-Santos worked on the project with Dr. Adriana Degani of WMU's Unified Clinics and also enlisted the help of his own middle school-aged children to try out the face shields and ensure they fit properly. Pre-K International administrators provided feedback to help the team perfect the design as well.

"Dr. Danna-dos-Santos shows through his work how academia can impact our communities directly," says Dr. Ron Cisler, dean of the College of Health and Human Services. "His innovative work on specialized materials and use of state-of-the-art printing technologies has produced a face shield that increases the likelihood of our children using protective equipment, assuring safety and engaging in interactive learning.”

This is one of several projects Danna-dos-Santos is involved with aimed at answering a need in the community. Others include developing a low-cost spirometer for monitoring COVID-19 recovery, identifying new algorithms for assessing higher risks of falling in older adults and developing new protocols for the assessment of long-term concussive events.

"Our faculty are experts in their fields. Their research is making a difference in the pandemic. And projects like this one are clearly going to have a positive, tangible impact on real people in the WMU community and beyond," Cisler says. "Our faculty are preparing the next generation of health care workers in the face of a global pandemic. From public health experts helping shape public policy, to nurses and physician assistants on the front lines, to occupational and physical therapists aiding in COVID-19 patient recovery, I’ve never been more proud of the disciplines we serve and the highly impactful work our faculty and students are doing."

"I just like to help," says Danna-dos-Santos. "I feel it is my duty as a public researcher to provide my expertise to those who need it."

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