ventilator Alum Ryan Sadowski joined a group of nationwide volunteers on the Ventilator Project with the goal of developing and mass-producing a low-cost solution specifically for the coronavirus patient. (Photo provided)

Stepping Up

Former Boilermaker football player helps tackle ventilator shortage

Like many people caught in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, Ryan Sadkowski (MS Finance, ’19), was trying to figure out how he could join the fight against the global pandemic. So, when he heard about the buzz surrounding an upstart band of volunteers organizing a non-profit called The Ventilator Project, his curiosity was piqued.

Purdue alumnus Tyler Mantel (ChE ’13, ME ’13) and Alex Frost started the initiative to address the projected massive shortfall of ventilators, life-saving devices critical to the fight against the global crisis.

The founders, whom are entrepreneurs with startups in MassRobotics in Boston, quickly assembled a team with the goal of developing and mass-producing a low-cost solution specifically for the coronavirus patient.

Sadkowski describes it as “a guts version of a ventilator. One that is much more cost-effective and easier to quickly get into hospitals, home care, in the hands of anyone who needs it.”

It turned out that Sadkowski’s friend and former Boilermaker football teammate, Jacob Thieneman (ME '18), had been tabbed as a public relations and media lead for The Ventilator Project. Without hesitation, Sadkowski reached out and asked how he could help. As a consultant for boutique management consulting firm, Forsyth Advisors, Sadkowski had prior experience working in strategic sourcing and helping supply chains improve their processes and reduce costs.

“I’m not an engineer or materials specialist working on the device itself, but I’ve worked with medical supply companies,” Sadkowski says. “I also have experience with prototypes, reverse engineering, sourcing and production. When a prototype is approved, I thought I could help with moving the project into mass production.”

Within 24 hours, he had a remote meeting with Mantel and joined the team. Dozens of professionals, engineers, medical professionals, MBA candidates, and even undergraduates taking classes at home also joined the cause, many of them fellow Boilermakers.

Sadkowski cites the culture of community, teamwork, and exposure to diverse perspectives as critical components of his experience at the Krannert School that have been valuable in his escalating involvement in The Ventilator Project.

“In addition to the cause, the reason that I stepped in was that I saw that this was being led by Boilermakers,” Sadkowski says. “Everyone is given a voice to speak up and contribute. Everyone is receptive to feedback on how we fund this, produce it, and market it on a large scale. The end goal is to save lives.”

Alumni-owned company shifts gears to manufacture masks

A family of Boilermakers including Jim Mellott (BSIM ’71), his wife Janet (LA ‘73), their son Reid (BSM ’99) and his wife, Cilissa (PharmD ’01), own and operate Northwest Interiors, an Elkhart, Indiana-based manufacturer of curtains and bedding for the RV industry.

When the pandemic struck this spring, the company changed gears for six weeks to produce masks for front-line healthcare workers. “We made some prototypes and my 11-year-old daughter sewed a prototype for us at home on her machine,” says Reid Mellott. “That ended up being the one we used.”

The retooling effort involved switching over the company’s sewing machines from using monofilament thread to cotton thread, which is more comfortable against the face.

“We also moved people around,” Mellott said. “They were on machines they had never operated before and their sewing things they had never sewn before.”

Northwest Interiors delivered its first order of masks to Beacon Health in March, spurring additional requests for masks from the Elkhart Sherriff’s and Fire Departments. The company also donated fabric for making masks to the area’s Amish community.

Despite the crisis, employees responded with enthusiasm.

“What’s cool about this is when I had the meeting and said, No. 1, everybody’s shut down, but No. 2, we’ve been called to action, boy, it was awesome,” Mellott says. “It felt like a wartime effort.”

Employees even asked if they could come in an hour earlier. “It was a fun environment,” he says. “We had a lot of good, positive vibes going on.”

Still, the company was relieved when the RV industry began reopening in late April to a surge in demand from restless consumers ready to hit the road. “The industry continues breaking sales records,” Mellott says. “July was our best month in history, and we’ve been along for the ride ever since.”

Pages: 1 | 2