Sun | Oct 2, 2022

UWI engineering team breathing life into broken ventilators

Published:Wednesday | April 22, 2020 | 12:08 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Dr Paul Aiken (left), CEO of Mona-Tech Engineering Services Ltd, and engineer Dontae Rodney conducting repairs to ventilators and other medical equipment for the public health sector at The University of the West Indies, Mona Faculty of Engineering, on Monday.
Dr Paul Aiken (left), CEO of Mona-Tech Engineering Services Ltd, and engineer Dontae Rodney conducting repairs to ventilators and other medical equipment for the public health sector at The University of the West Indies, Mona Faculty of Engineering, on Monday.

A team at Mona-Tech Engineering Services has embarked on a mission to repair ventilators and biomedical equipment in the island’s public health sector free of charge as the island tackles the coronavirus pandemic.

The deadly SARS-CoV-2 virus, which surfaced in China late last year sweeping the rest of the world, causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease which, up to yesterday, has claimed more than 176,000 lives globally, with at least 2.5 million persons infected.

Ventilators offer the best chance of survival for patients worst affected by COVID-19.

Mona-Tech Engineering Services, which is based at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, is a com­mercial entity with its main business being the operation and maintenance contractor for The UWI’s cogeneration plant.

CEO Dr Paul Aiken told The Gleaner that there had already been plans to expand business offerings in the areas of maintenance, industry and manufacturing.

“What COVID did is that it has caused us to start with the most important machines first. I know that, from experience, there are a lot of machines sitting down that are not working, and most times, it’s very simple stuff,” Aiken explained of the drive to fix the ventilators.

Aiken said that his team received eight out-of-service ventilators from The University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), all of which had dead batteries.

“We ordered the batteries and put them in, got them powered up, and when we put the air in, there were a lot of leaks and the tubes [were] broken or crystallised. We are now in the process of recalibrating the machines,” Aiken explained.

One ventilator has been sent back to UHWI for calibration with medical-grade oxygen, and the remainder will be ready for return once they pass the test.

The UWI-based engineering company is also repairing 10 ventilators and six patient monitors from the South East Regional Health Authority. One of each has been restored and returned while the others have been diagnosed for repairs.

NOT EASY

Aiken said that the work was by no means easy.

“Most of the times, we have no circuit diagram, we have nothing from the manufacturer. It is our skill and our experience in electronics design and circuits [that guide us],” the CEO said. “We are able to look at the circuit board and figure out what is wrong,” he said, adding that they are also aided by basic and advanced electronic software.

When the team came upon two ventilators with worn-out valves, Aiken explained that the tiny part is not available for sale. However, they still came up with a plan.

“We are building them in the mechanical workshop and we already bought the polyurethane and formed it, so we just need to fit it in now,” he said.

The team has also done repairs to a Qiacube machine, which is a ribonucleic acid (RNA) analyser that is also capable of conducting mass testing of COVID-19 samples – 12 to 24 at a time.

Dontae Rodney is one of the volunteers who was asked to offer his knowledge and expertise to the project.

“I love doing this. It’s a bit challenging because some of the providers haven’t been doing any servicing and all of that falls on us now,” he said.

However, the team is honoured to play their part in the COVID-19 fight.

“The contractors come in, I haven’t given them a cent, but I try to buy them lunch every day,” Aiken pointed out. “I love this ‘cause it gives me something to do. I just sit at home and apart from my online classes, I wouldn’t have anything to do. I’ve watched all my sci-fi movies already,” he added with a chuckle.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com