The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges for frontline heath care workers, including the pain and discomfort of wearing face masks nonstop for long shifts. For thousands of doctors and nurses in the Triangle, however, a UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center staff member is committed to bringing them some welcomed relief.

Since April, Mattias Jonsson, director of Systems Development for UNC Lineberger’s Patient-Reported Outcomes Core, has been using 3D printers to manufacture ear savers, a plastic clip that pulls a face mask’s elastic straps away from a person’s ears and connects them comfortably behind the head. This prevents the elastic straps from chafing the ears.

Jonsson began making ear savers after a neighbor, who is an emergency medicine physician, asked Jonsson if he could manufacture one on his 3D printer.

Jonsson agreed to help and, after researching designs, started printing ear savers. More of his neighbors working on the COVID-19 frontline asked for ear savers as well, and Jonsson’s small favor rapidly evolved into a major operation.

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The mask strap ties onto one end of the ear saver, while the other end forms the adjustable band that fits behind the user’s head. This prevents the mask loop from chafing behind the ear, and can help provide a more secure fitting of the mask.

After some design adjustments, Jonsson printed about 300 ear savers by mid-April and donated them to the Emergency Department, NICU, and environmental and translation services at the UNC Medical Center.

Jonsson has since purchased another 3D printer and moved his printing operation from his home and into a small camper parked in his driveway.

As his printing operation continued to expand, allowing him to provide ear savers to health care workers at area hospitals and local law enforcement members. Jonsson’s work has not gone unappreciated. A police officer recently gave him a challenge coin to thank him for his ear savers.

“We met up in a store parking lot. He surprised me with a challenge coin as a gift, which really blew me away. It made me come to the realization that ear saver printing wasn’t just about saving ears, but it made people feel like there was someone out there who cared,” Jonsson said.

By the end of April, Jonsson had printed 1,500 ear savers, and he ordered a third 3D printer. He has since ordered a fourth printer.

In early May, Jonsson donated 550 ear savers to the N.C. Cancer Hospital, UNC Lineberger’s clinical home, and last week he donated 1,150 to UNC Health.

Jonsson said as long as they are needed, he plans to manufacture about 1,000 ear savers each week for UNC Health.

 

Media Contact: Taylor Lisenby, taylor_lisenby@med.unc.edu or (919) 451-8162.