Like many people and businesses worldwide, Fernando Herreros' event planning business was closed due to COVID-19.
“So, we had to find a new way to make money,” said Fernando, who lives in Asunción, Paraguay.
Fernando shared the story of how his quest to make up lost income led him to support the effort to help patients with COVID-19 with Aurika Savickaite, co-founder of the www.HelmetBasedVentilation.com website.
The businessman – who had no connection with the medical field -- started to look around for inspiration as the world around him closed down and found isolation pods were being used to transport patients with COVID-19. They went back to their factory and manufactured a pod. Medical personnel started asking if they could make products – and eventually were contacted by a physician who asked if they could make a helmet.
Fernando’s team got to work – and, working with physicians, came up with a helmet. Once the prototype was complete, Fernando’s team started reaching out to physicians to have them try the design.
Utilizing information found on the www.HelmetBasedVentilation.com, the team was able to demonstrate for physicians the different ways the helmets could be used – from wall oxygen to high-flow machines.
“It worked perfectly every time,” Fernando said.
With little to no helmet awareness in Paraguay, the concept was welcomed with open arms to fight COVID.
“We’re like the pioneers in this [the Helmet NIV],” Fernando said. “The doctors are very happy with this and need it for COVID right now, to protect them more than the patients.”
The one-piece helmet is made entirely out of PVC, with all SDS certifications, with ports for patient access, expiration, inhalation ports, and the neck seal and arm straps are silicone-based.
The helmets also can be cleaned for use with another patient, and the neck seals can be replaced if needed. The flexible neck seal can be somewhat adjusted to adapt to different sizes.
In demonstrating the helmet, Fernando was able to put the helmet on within seconds. The positive pressure inside the helmet, the negative pressure outside, and the silicone neck seal combine to make a good, leak-free seal. The flexible PVC allows patients to lie down, as well.
“[Nurses] told us one of the major benefits was getting the seal right,” Fernando said. “When you put the helmet on, the seal in the neck just sticks to your neck.”
Fernando’s team found having the straps adjusted correctly also is very important, as there are no leaks when they are pulled tight.
One “inconvenience” is it is difficult to hear when wearing the helmet, and medical personnel might have to speak a bit louder when talking to the patient.
“That’s it, that’s the only thing we found negative,” Fernando said.
Unlike the helmets, many more adjustments are needed with a face mask to find the perfect fit and seal to avoid leaks – and those adjustments can sometimes take 20 minutes – crucial minutes.
In one clinical trial, a patient had a low saturation of oxygen, Fernando said.
“After 10 to 20 minutes of using a helmet, the saturation got a lot better – in 20 minutes' time,” he said. “And that was how long it took to put the mask on before.”
Patients often relax more when using the helmet, allowing them to rest easier and help in recovery.
There are not many doctors in the small country of Paraguay, so the impact of COVID can be even more devastating.
“If we get to the time where our doctors start to get ill, it’s going to be very bad for us,” he said. “So, we started working on this and we’re hoping to help the most people we can.”
So far, 10 helmets have been made and given away to hospitals to try. (Country) is poor, medical care scare, and there are very few ventilators available.
A pediatric helmet is in the works – in an infant/toddler and older child model. Intubation is extremely hard on adults – even more so on children, with long-lasting effects. Dubbing the helmet as an “astronaut” helmet, youngers are more receptive, and the process is much easier on them than adjusting a mask. Avoiding unnecessary intubation is a major plus.
“I think that’s going to be the first thing we are going to deliver because they really need it there,” Fernando said. Savickaite agreed the need is there.“It’s so sad when you see those little kids being on a ventilator,” Savickaite said.
Overall, the availability of helmets in Paraguay and other countries will be a great benefit to medical personnel and patients.
“We know that the helmet is going to very helpful there,” Fernando said, adding that a helmet was used in an ambulance and it worked.
“Everybody is afraid of COVID right now,” he said. “So, it [the helmet] would be great protection for everybody. And imagine just like taking the patient with the helmet on from the ambulance to the hospital; everything is quicker.”
And being able to avoid intubation, if possible, is a great benefit, Savickaite added.
Now is a good time to introduce the helmets, Savickaite said, adding cases are low right now.
“Right now, we have just 10 people in hospitals, and 1,000 cases,” Fernando said. But they are preparing.
“Brazil has a lot of cases; it’s just a matter of time,” Fernando said. Flu season is on its way, so it could be even more of a struggle.
The physicians are receptive to using the helmets and are trying different types of configurations to see how it works.
“We’re getting a lot of help from the physicians here, we’re very happy about that they want to use the helmet,” Fernando said. “We just need to get the final certification to be able to get it out there, but we have everything perfect.”
Savickaite agreed, saying FDA approvals tend to take a while. Fernando estimates production at about 100 per week, with the potential to upscale those numbers.
The website, www.HelmetBasedVentilation.com was very helpful in the development of their helmet, Fernando said.
“We got a lot of information from your website, and watching the videos and reading the studies,” Fernando said.
The global effort to develop helmets to combat COVId-19 is appreciated by all involved.
“It’s a huge thing to get help from people who don’t even know you,” Fernando said.
“We just want to help – we know it’s going to help a lot of people,” Fernando said. “Especially the doctors, the nurses – and everybody that works in health care.”
It’s a win-win for all, according to Fernando and Savickaite.
“They’re scared to go to work, so we think if we put a helmet on the patient, it’s going to be a little bit less scary and the therapy is going to work on the patient,” Fernando said.