Coronavirus Updates

April 11, 2020

COVID-19: Genius engineers convert breast pumps into ventilators to combat shortages

Breast Pumps, Ventilators

As ventilator shortages continue to plague hospitals, enterprising Maryland engineers have devised an unorthodox way to potentially supply coronavirus patients with oxygen: breast pumps.

The idea was reportedly sparked after the “FDA actually approved the emergency use of medical devices including positive pressure devices,” software engineer Rachel Labatt tells WMAR2 news.

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In accordance, engineer Brandi Gerstner used an X-Acto knife and a screwdriver to reverse the pump’s suction function so it expels air, rather than taking it in, reports WBALTV. She even rigged the impromptu breathing instrument so that it pumps air in accordance with medical oxygen intake standards.

“Just as a mom, I spent a lot of time with those devices,” Gerstner tells the NBC outlet.

No on-switch? No problem! The ingenious inventors “simply soldered a few pins onto the control board of the breast pump, and just used the arduino to turn it on and off,” according to electrical engineer Alex Scott.

Best of all, the makeshift breathing device only costs $250 per unit compared with the $25,000-to-$50,000 price tag for a hospital-grade ventilator, according to

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MacGyvering ventilators out of automated mammary milkers might sound like something out of “Mad Max.” However, these oxygenation mavens are working with certified pulmonologists to get the green light from the US Food and Drug Administration so they can start putting the retrofitted respirators in hospitals.

Before they’re patient-ready, however, the breath pumps will need to be outfitted with a circuit board and emergency sensors to ensure consistent airflow. Not to mention “making sure that their units in their final form are going to be sanitizable,” Gerstner tells WBALTV.

“Our end goal is to get ventilators to hospitals to save patients,” fellow engineer Labatt adds.

The matter is particularly pressing as New York City has only amassed enough ventilators to stay ahead of the coronavirus for a few more days, warned Mayor Bill de Blasio Sunday.

NY Post