It initially began as a way to help protect his mother Cecilia, a nurse at several healthcare agencies in the Valley. Julio Garza now runs an effort to support the medical community in the region as a whole.
Garza, 23, says he found a niche creating protective face shields for healthcare providers by utilizing 3D printing techniques he learned as a student with the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Program at South Texas College.
Employed recently as a substitute teacher at a local high school and as a health provider for the elderly, Garza said the rise of the current COVID-19 pandemic impacted him in numerous ways.
Before the virus struck, Garza said he was working on his Capstone project, doing volunteer hours with AMT. Since the college closed in March, he said he found a way to earn his hours while also helping the community.
“My mom has been a nurse for the last 23 years and lately they have not had enough equipment,” said the Rio Grande City resident. “My mom is also high risk because she has asthma and other personal health issues that can be critical for her, especially since she is working with COVID-19 patients.”
Putting Education to Work
Initially noticing the online community talk about making face shields for healthcare professionals for those with access to a 3D printer, Garza said he was encouraged to reach out to medical staff in the area to address a shortage of health equipment they are currently experiencing.
The result was finding a way to create protective equipment approved the National Institute of Health in order to begin providing them to local healthcare providers.
“I was talking to my mom and I was seeing how nervous and scared she was because she was worried about herself and bringing it back to us, so I decided to do something,” Garza said. “I already had 3D printers, it has been my hobby since I started studying Advanced Manufacturing.”
The project took off from there, he said. Garza’s mother, who works among four to five health agencies in the Valley, secured orders for more than 160 face shields within the span of about three hours.
“I was worried at first because I started thinking that what if I started helping but nobody wanted to accept it, I didn’t want to waste my time,” he said. “I wanted to do my best to help out with the materials I have, but my mom encouraged me to continue and helped me to talk to the people she worked with.”
Expanding, answering the Call
Since he began in March, Garza says he has produced roughly 230 face shields for local healthcare providers totaling more than 690 printing hours. During that time, he has purchased two additional 3D printers, and has received assistance from South Texas College Advanced Manufacturing instructors who have guided him with the production process.
That assistance has enabled him to provide face shields free of charge to providers, but Garza still politely asks for donations to help him purchase materials.
“I don’t want people to think that my intention is to profit,” he said. “I usually ask for $5 as a donation for each face shield because that’s the material cost of the headband, the shield, elastic, or even printer parts just in case they break. It’s just so I can keep on buying the material I need.
“What originally started as a way to try to keep my mom safe eventually turned to wanting to help other nurses who have families out there, and keep them safe,” he said. “If I can do this for my mom, I can do this for other people. I don’t really care about any attention for this, and I am not looking for praise, but I think people can connect with that.”