Finding new ways: Middletown doctor, engineer husband, Franklin company combine for coronavirus-fighting innovation

At first glance, it doesn’t look very impressive. Just a plexiglass box with handles, two circular openings and a sliding door.

But a doctor at Atrium Medical Center’s Level III Trauma Center said the “intubation box” or “COVID-19 Cube” is reducing the health risks for those treating patients in respiratory distress such as experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, or those confirmed positive with COVID-19.

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Dr. Tina Kummerle said the box provides “one extra layer of protection” for medical personnel at AMC.

The hospital has three boxes and has used them “a handful of times,” the doctor said.

When asked if she feels better protected while using the box during an intubation procedure, she said: “Absolutely. It was really nice. Felt like we had an additional layer of protection.”

Before a patient can be placed on a ventilator, they must have a tube inserted into their mouth and airway. During this medical procedure, particles are often coughed up by the patient and into the faces of the medical team.

Kummerle saw a prototype of an intubation box being used in Taiwan. The more she studied the box and its benefits, she said: “It all made sense.”

So along with her husband, Kevin, owner of Metalex Manufacturing in Blue Ash, they redesigned the boxes by adding handles, openings for tubes and a sliding door on the side so the ER nurse can easily hand the doctor the instruments during the intubation procedure. The boxes also seal against the cart, which reduces the risk of germs spreading.

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Before the boxes, the medical staff wore all types of protective gear, from masks, eye shields, gloves, head coverings and gowns. The box provides “one extra layer of protection,” she said.

During an intubation procedure, since the medical staff has “direct contact” with the patients, there is “a risk” involved about potentially spreading the coronavirus, Kummerle said.

The boxes are reusable after being wiped down and disinfected, she said.

She is hoping to share her prototype with fellow clinicians in the Cincinnati/Dayton region.

After designing the box, the Kummerles contacted Bill Wurzelbacher, vice president of 3-D Technical Services in Franklin. Wurzelbacher said his company would produce the boxes for free if materials were provided.

“We were happy to help,” he said. “We are all in this together.”

Wurzelbacher was given a demonstration at Atrium and said the box “looked good and performed good.”

Kummerle compared dealing with the coronavirus to facing “the unknown every day” and said the COVID-19 has created “a lot of anxiety and fear” in the medical profession.

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She said Atrium has taken the right steps to be prepared for the coronavirus. The hospital has established a patient screening area outside its Emergency Trauma Center in order to provide the “safest possible environment” for patients, visitors and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The designated area was set up in accordance with infection-prevention protocols and allows those expressing respiratory issues to be kept separate from incoming trauma patients.

When patients arrive, they will meet a staff member outside the Emergency Trauma Center entrance. Patients with respiratory symptoms will be taken to a medical tent for additional screenings and care. Alternatively, those who do not show fever and respiratory symptoms will be directed to the main Emergency Trauma Center entrance for appropriate care.

She also has been impressed by the community’s “overwhelming” response to those on the front lines. Hospital personnel have received food donations from area restaurants.

“This isn’t something we expect,” she said. “This is what we do every day.”

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