LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- In normal conditions, Meredith Pritchett would work her regular shift in the intensive care unit at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington.
She’s a senior social worker, trained and driven to guide patients and their families through difficult medical situations and emotional challenges.
When she saw news reports about medical professionals forced to use bandanas to protect themselves against the spread of the novel coronavirus, Pritchett knew there had to be a better way — even if she was recovering from her second kidney transplant.
She was determined to team with her mother, Dianne Whitaker, a nurse, and four friends to make at least 200 cloth medical masks.
“I just wanted to help,” Pritchett said. “I saw the situation that a lot of people were in, and I felt as if I just wasn’t contributing.”
These are not normal times. Not at the UK Medical Center. Like hospitals across America, they are preparing for the inevitable increase of patients battling COVID-19.
And not for Pritchett. On Valentine’s Day, only weeks before the first coronavirus patient in Kentucky was treated in Lexington, she underwent a kidney transplant — her second kidney transplant surgery in 25 years.
After a successful transplant in 1995, Pritchett was healthy and robust for nearly 20 years. Her transplanted kidney, donated by her mother, began to fail in 2015.
She returned to the transplant list last summer. An anonymous live donor provided this kidney.
Pritchett underwent the operation at the UK Medical Center 40 days ago. After five days in the hospital, she recuperated at her mother’s home for several weeks before returning to her apartment in Lexington.
She’s not yet cleared to return to work. With a compromised immune system, she is certainly a member of a prime at-risk group for COVID-19. It’s not safe for her to return to the intensive care floor around patients with a deadly infectious disease.
“I have too much energy not to do anything,” she said. “Especially now with everything that’s going on. There’s such a need.”
You know the list of needs — and masks for medical professionals are always near the top.
In December, prior to her surgery, Pritchett purchased two cloth masks for herself for $12 each. They are outfitted with a five-layer, protective charcoal filter that slides into a pocket in front of her mouth.
“They got here in plenty of time,” she said. “There wasn’t any problem at all.’
After she was released from the hospital, Pritchett tried to purchase additional masks. She discovered they will not be available until May 1-22.
Not good enough.
What could she do? How could she help?
After 15 hours of research, Pritchett created multiple patterns for small, medium and large masks, including slots for the essential charcoal filters.
She purchased rolls of cotton material and carefully sized the prototypes. There is a shortage of elastic bands to secure the masks so they might have to be tied.
She said she plans to have the first masks completed by Thursday and then will team with family and friends to make at least 200 as quickly as possible.
When she posted her plan on Facebook this week, Pritchett received inquiries from across the country as well as pledges of financial support.
Multiple medical authorities have said the only mask the Center for Disease Control have certified to be safe to stop the spread of COVID-19 is the N95, which must also be properly fitted.
There is a shortage of N95 masks, which has created competition between state governments and medical organizations for that product.
Pritchett read the stories about medical professionals substituting bandanas or recycling their masks and other protective gear because that was their best option.
Not acceptable. Not for Pritchett, who said that she has been inspired to make her masks as close to high-grade as possible by the leadership of Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who has asked citizens to help.
“I hate it that they’re in that situation in such a high-risk environment,” she said. “I decided to use my energy and do something positive with it."
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