Shelbyville artist Ioan Florea has been working day and night to produce face shields in his 3D printing art studio to help provide healthcare workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) in the fight against COVID-19.
Putting his artwork on hold, Florea has produced more than 1,000 face shields in the past month, which he has donated mostly to Illinois hospitals including Sarah Bush Lincoln. “It’s consuming all of my equipment and my time right now,” he said. “Everyone is sacrificing somehow and I’m no different. It’s a historic time and I want to do whatever I can to make a difference.”
The face shields were an instant hit after they were distributed to Sarah Bush Lincoln’s volunteer dentists to use during emergency cases. “The dentist’s love them. They are light weight and comfortable,” SBL Dental Services Director Laura Bollan said.
With an urgent need for more PPE, especially for dental practices, Florea was thrilled to fulfill a request and donate an additional 200 face shields to Sarah Bush Lincoln dental services on Wednesday. “PPE is a struggle for dental practices at this point,” Bollan said. “We are not on the federal distribution lists yet, so we cannot obtain supplies from our dental vendors. This was a huge relief for them and they are anxiously waiting for the next batch of shields. Dental offices are now being allowed to reopen for some procedures, so this batch of face shields will arrive just in time!”
Florea sought input from doctors and designed his shields with a closed top barrier which prevents droplets from entering over the top. He has 12 3D printers in his studio, which he is operating 24 hours a day to produce as many shields as he can. “3D printing is a slow process, but I’ve readapted mine to go as fast as possible,” he said. His 16-year-old daughter, Sidney, also helps him with the process.
The Romanian-born artist said he felt a special calling to help during this unprecedented time. “My father is a retired doctor, my sister is a doctor and my nephew just graduated medical school and is working at a hospital in Germany where he treats people with COVID-19,” he said. Florea said he also aspired to become a doctor before pursuing a fine arts degree in the US years ago.
“It just didn’t feel right to make abstract art when the world is in this situation and I have the printers and I knew I could do it,” he added. Florea makes his own 3D printer filament, a process that took him two years to figure out. “That’s the reason I’m able to make the shields. Otherwise it would be very expensive,” he said.
With his business on hold and no money coming in, Florea has set up a Go Fund Me page called “3D Printed Face Shield donations for hospitals” to help with the expense of making and shipping more shields. “I knew once I made the decision to make them I wouldn’t be able to stop. I really want to make a difference,” he said.
Face shields are a key piece of equipment for front-line healthcare workers operating in close contact with COVID-19 patients. They’re essentially plastic, transparent masks that extend fully to cover a wearer’s face.