‘I Found a Way to Fight This Pandemic With My Dentist Colleagues’
Kristie Clark, MD, FAAP
“It’s been two weeks. The COVID test results aren’t back,” my physician-husband said over the phone regarding one of his patients.
I was recovering from a major surgery and critical illness in a hospital 100 miles away from the rural western Kansas hospital where my husband and I serve as the sole physicians.
My husband was alone on the frontlines of the ER while my two sons homeschooled. Having that patient in isolation for two weeks as we waited for those test results strained our 25-bed hospital’s resources. And the hospital was running out of PPE, placing our nurses at risk.
While advocating to test, test, test, I learned that Kansas ranked last among the states for the number of COVID tests done per capita. This was due to a scarcity of tests and supplies, which led to strict testing criteria.
We just didn’t have the testing capacity in Kansas. The CDC had allocated about 150 tests a day to the whole state—and that’s a generous estimate. Our state was left pretty vulnerable.
Kansas added the CEPHEID and then the PerkinsElmer testing platforms, which would expand testing to thousands of tests a day. But two things stood in our way: a shortage of nasopharyngeal swabs and a shortage of CEPHEID reagent supplies.
“I’ll get on the swab issue,” I emailed back to our state health secretary when he asked if I knew of any supply channels for swabs.
How do you supply a state lab with 10,000 swabs a week when they aren’t commercially available? You make them.
We facilitated a collaboration between FORMLABS and Kansas dentists Dr. Kory Kirkegaard and Dr. John Fales to 3D print nasopharyngeal swabs to supply our state’s lab. Kirkegaard, who practices in Overland Park, and Fales, a pediatric dentist in Olathe, modified their dental 3D printers and added more.
Within a week we were up and producing the needed swabs. Today, they’re supplying the state lab with about 17,000 swabs a week.
Unable to join the frontlines right away because of my illness, I found a way to fight this pandemic with my dentist colleagues.
It’s just a patch until the supply chains open up. But we’re getting hit hard right now. Dodge City to the south is currently a COVID-19 hot spot. And Midwestern states are vulnerable.
Other pediatricians in need of a swab solution like this can contact me through my AAP chapter’s website to learn more.
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*The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the American Academy of Pediatrics.