SOMERVILLE, NJ - Beyond the operating room and beyond the classroom, acute care surgeon Dr. Joseph Hanna is one person who has made a difference

Make that two - a second person who has chosen to make a difference - Chanyoung Oh, a 13-year-old 7th-grader in Montgomery.

And a third - Somerville High School student Alexandra Schweid of Branchburg - , and others who have joined a growing list of 3D-printing enthusiasts inspired by Hanna's urgent call for assistance.

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Hanna spends what little spare time he has producing items on his 3-D printer at home - more recently, highly-sought after face shields that are in short supply because of the demand created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hanna parlayed his personal high-tech hobby into a steady supply stream of critical face shields produced by others adept at using their printers to create the face shields inspired by his story.

Hanna's "proteges" have either used his instructions that were included in a Rutgers Today article, or researched alternative instructions online and gone into production at home in their basements, bedrooms and at dining room tables putting their printers to good use to benefit others.

Oh met Hanna earlier this week for the first time when he dropped off a large box containing 28 badly-needed face shields outside the lobby of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital/Somerset. 

Under normal circumstances, Oh stays busy. He's on the school swim team, is a member of the student council and a reporter for the student newspaper, and teaches Sunday school at his church. He produced the donated face shields during spring break.

His parents had purchased the 3-D printer for their son because he wanted to produce 3-D animation figures.

The pandemic changed his mind.

"We bought it to create animated figures but after watching the news and seeing what was happening I thought 'those things can wait, I can be more useful to the world,' I wanted to help," Oh said.

He found a design and program endorsed by the National Institute of Health to produce the face shields he donated.

It took between 2-2.5 hours to produce each face shield, according to Oh, who has since found another program that reduces the time to create the final product to 54 minutes.

During their short meeting outside the hospital, Oh told Hanna that he was looking into printing plastic clips and strap relievers for the masks worn by medical personnel, but that will have to wait because the Somerset County Sherif's office has reached out requesting face shields. 

"I feel proud of myself but at the same time very humbled," Oh said.

He intends to continue producing those items he can for as long as there is a need. He's also spoken to friends about doing the same, with one who has begun sewing masks that will be donated to St. Peter's Medical Center in New Brunswick.

Others, including Schweid, have contributed to the supply stream; she had help from Chris Jacobsen, IT systems administrator, Branchburg Township School District, and his 3-D printer.

It's not the first time she's contributed her talents to the hospital. Back in 2011, when she was in kindergarten, she and other elementary students created best wishes cards for patients at the hospital.

If there is an upside to the coronvirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it would be the groundswell of support for the front-line medical personnel from the community, including middle and high school students wanting to help, to contribute, to be part of the solution.

Unwittingly, Hanna has created a loose-knit cottage industry of volunteers including medical school students at Rutgers University and students at Raritan Valley Community College, 

Hanna is assistant professor and medical director of emergency general surgery in Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School’s Division of Acute Care Surgery, where he works with the trauma and acute care surgery teams at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

"if we can mobilize the 3-D printing community to use the tested patterns that are out there, it would be a great way to help meet what’s needed. If even 1,000 of the hobbyists in New Jersey and the surrounding area could print 10 face shields, that’s an additional 10,000 shields we’d have for the health care providers who need them,” Hanna told Rutgers Today.

Click here for an industry-standard eye shield design.

Click here for an industry-standard face shield design.