Two MSEM Students Engaged at Forefront of Ventilator Production, Bringing Relief to Hospitals

Chris Brady and Dylan Thorp, MSEM ’22 and ZOLL Medical Corporation employees, are engaged in efforts to meet growing ventilator needs from hospitals across the nation and locally.

As scores of first responders unite in the fight against the novel coronavirus, the importance of ventilators in providing critical care to COVID-19 patients has taken center stage. 

Chris Brady, Online MSEM ’22, and Dylan Thorp, On-Campus MSEM ’22, are both ZOLL Medical Corporation employees engaged at the forefront of ZOLL’s efforts to produce 10,000 ventilators a month, bringing relief to healthcare systems across the nation. 

The production volume represents a nearly 25-fold uptick as part of the company’s aggressive response plan. And while new infections of the novel coronavirus are beginning to slow down, the pair of Tufts graduate students are continuing to ramp up efforts to meet the influx in ventilator demand.

“We started to see the effects of COVID-19 at the very beginning of January,” said Dylan, a Senior Manufacturing Engineer for ZOLL. “We had almost a little bit of a head start knowing the pandemic would stress supply chains, but when we got some of the initial orders and quotes, we knew we would need to adapt quickly.”

Ventilators are medical equipment that facilitate airflow in the respiratory system which can be used to treat labored breathing in COVID-19 patients with structural inflammation, and in severe cases, fluid buildup in lungs.  

Healthcare professionals have noted that ventilators are just one means of treatment for COVID-19 patients, and although they’re neither a cure nor necessary for every patient, ventilators can provide life-saving measures in critical cases.

ZOLL, which produces a variety of medical devices, including defibrillators and AEDs, has more recently shifted its focus and capabilities to meet the nation’s unprecedented demand for ventilators. For Dylan, his role involves project management and aligning ground operations with organizational goals.

“[Going in, we knew] it was going to require all hands on deck, a lot of creative thinking and a lot of work, but it’s an opportunity – for ZOLL not only as a company to step up and provide these devices – but it’s an opportunity for each of us to be very helpful and contribute to getting the world through this crisis,” Dylan said.

Coupled with the increase in fabrication, Chris, a Regulatory Affairs Specialist, ensures any changes in the means of production comply with standards and are documented. 

“The regulatory team evaluates any changes made related to the production or design of the device through our change management system. We review all changes in real-time to ensure they are properly documented, compliant, and do not hold up production,” said Chris. 

In recent weeks, ZOLL has shipped some critically needed ventilators to local area hospitals in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. “People wanted to make sure the ventilators we were making were going to the places where our families and loved ones might be – that they have the resources they need,” said Dylan.

The realities of the frontline also bring a stark contrast in their daily routines. Chris’ work is now being conducted remotely from home, while Dylan still reports in-person to support critical operations. But for the two, they’re adapting to a new normal during the pandemic. 

“The idea of gowning up and handwashing in a particular way are not necessarily new concepts, but I would have not expected that this was what I was getting into,” said Dylan. “We’re all funneled through one door to get our temperature taken when we come in. We get new masks and gloves every day and there are hand sanitizer stations set up – all while we’re six feet away from each other.”

Simply, “it’s very different than I ever pictured it being,” added Dylan. 

Chris noted, “You kind of have to take a step back and realize what we’re doing and the impact that it has. I think you sometimes get lost in how stressful the situation can be, but if you take a step back and realize this is going to save someone’s life … it gives you that motivation to grind through it and really produce the right results for the greater good.”

While the workplace has changed, the MS in Engineering Management program is preparing them well.

“Try to be the example of what you’re looking for in the world. The Gordon Institute has been very helpful in teaching new tools and revealing things in myself, then refining them, and saying we can take it to the next level. In order to be a really good leader, you have to understand that you have to continue to learn forever,” said Dylan. 

The demands of high production and regulatory changes are forecasted to continue through the remainder of the year, and the duo are committed to seeing it through. “I’m proud to be part of a company that’s at the forefront of production,” said Chris.