Sam Gray (ESTEEM '20) and Prof. Matt Leevy to be featured in THE FIGHT

Author: Lillian Piz

Sam Gray, ESTEEM '20Sam Gray, ESTEEM '20

Frontline workers and those supporting frontline workers can be found throughout the Notre Dame family. Hitting even closer to home for those of us who work with the IDEA Center is the contribution of two individuals in particular who have demonstrated notable commitment going above and beyond to lend a hand during this pandemic. Both Matt Leevy, Director of the Innovation Lab, and ESTEEM graduate student Sam Gray will be featured in Notre Dame’s THE FIGHT live broadcast on May 12th - a collection of stories told by members of the Notre Dame community who are helping lead the charge in the fight against COVID-19.

Sam Gray received his MD from Trinity College Dublin back in 2018 before joining the ESTEEM Class of 2020. Upon returning to South Bend after Spring Break and hearing about how rapidly the pandemic was spreading, Gray quickly decided to return home to Ireland and rejoin his former employers at University Hospital Limerick. “Knowing that Ireland’s healthcare system would be severely tested if numbers were to even resemble Italy, I felt quite profoundly that I needed to be at home to do what I could on the ground. Thankfully my program was very supportive of my decision,” says Gray. 

Gray is a Senior House Officer (junior resident) in the Anesthetics and Critical Care Department working directly with COVID-19 patients in the Intensive Care Unit where he was previously positioned. “I have been welcomed back into a department of passionate dedicated anesthesiologists and intensivists. It is very busy of course, but the healthcare system in Ireland has so much to be grateful to the Irish public for, who rallied together immediately, observing and respecting lockdown restrictions that have managed to flatten our curve to a just about manageable level. The system is stretched and stressed but has adapted admirably, massively expanding capacity around the country.”

Entrepreneur, scientist, and professor Matt Leevy saw an opportunity to build out the IDEA Center’s Innovation Lab into a face shield production line. “We recognized early on that we had the technology in our hands to make a difference. There was an instantaneous demand for medical supplies that immediately depleted across the country and across the globe. The remarkable thing about 3D printing is that we could spin up an operation to immediately deliver the supplies. We stepped in to fill that need because we wanted to help and support the mission of the University as well as the IDEA Center’s mission to advance the common good.” 

“I’m very proud of the team that came together,” shares Leevy. Leevy, along with a large number of collaborators from all corners of campus have been working tirelessly on what they’ve called Project Irish Shield to produce a couple hundred shields per day for the St. Joseph County Unified Command, hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors and dental offices throughout the South Bend area. It doesn’t stop with South Bend; the face shields have been delivered to catholic hospitals across the nation to those areas which have been hit the hardest by the pandemic including New York and New Jersey. The whole operation has resulted in production of nearly 5,000 face shields. Leevy explains that these face shields can serve to not only extend the life of a healthcare worker’s face mask but the demonstrated durability and reusability of the mask itself allows it to be used multiple times which means the 5,000 units are the equivalent to potentially more than 100,000 disposable ones. 

Leevy and the team are preparing to begin production of about 10,000 ear protectors next - these are pieces which attach to a medical mask and move the elastic away from the ear to alleviate the common rubbing irritation.

The full broadcast schedule for Tuesday is here. Catch Gray at 3:08 PM EST and and Leevy at 7:16 PM EST to hear them talk more about their experiences!