During this time of the “stay-at-home” order, lots of kids might be taking this time to play video games or watch TV when they have downtime from doing their schoolwork. But 7-year-old Aleck Ridgway of Effingham likes spending his free time helping others through this COVID-19 pandemic.
Aleck, a second grader at St. Anthony Grade School, has spent days making ear protectors with a 3D printer for those on the frontlines of this crisis. The ear protectors are a strap extension for facemasks that have elastic straps that go around the ears. The extender connects to the elastic straps around the back of the neck so that the straps don’t have to rest on the back of the ears of the wearer.
Aleck’s mom, Jode, shared, “Aleck really wanted to make these with the 3D printer that we have because he wanted to help doctors and nurses by printing the ear protectors so that the elastic from the N95 mask wouldn't rub their ears. He says he really just wants to help anyone.”
Jode’s boyfriend Zak Dietzen found a pattern online and worked with Aleck to get the printer set to print them. Zak shared, “Aleck is really dedicated on making them. It’s the first thing he wants to do when he gets up and the last thing before he goes to bed.”
The 3D printer takes about two hours to print seven of the ear protectors, then they must be removed and cooled. Since starting this project, Aleck has made and donated almost 100 ear protectors and will be donating another 60 more when all have finished printing. When asked how many he wants to make, Aleck said, “As long as people need them. I am hoping that everything will go back to normal soon so that everyone can get back together with their families.” Zak shared, “He is committed to printing them until he runs out of plastic.”
This week, Aleck came by HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital to donate 30 ear protectors to St. Anthony’s and 30 more to HSHS Holy Family Hospital in Greenville. Other recipients of his donations so far include HSHS Home Care Southern Illinois, Crossroads Cancer Center, Lavender Ridge Memory Care, Southern IL Hand Center, St. Louis Children's Hospital, prison guards, a Newton police officer, a nurse from an Indianapolis hospital, an employee at the Cumberland Rehab & Health Care in Greenup, and various other individuals/places who have reached out to him.
HSHS St. Anthony’s President and CEO Theresa Rutherford expressed her gratitude for Aleck’s donation. “With the best practices for wearing N95 and other masks at all times to keep our colleagues and providers safe during this COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of time our staff are wearing the masks can be quite uncomfortable on the backs of their ears. These ear protectors will be very much appreciated by our staff,” she said. “Aleck’s ear protector design also has hearts in it, which makes it especially touching as the heart symbol represents support for health care workers right now. We are touched by Aleck’s spirit and generosity, another example of the outpouring of support we have received from our community at this time.”
Jode and Zak are beyond proud of Aleck and his commitment to making and donating the ear protectors. Jode said, “Aleck is a very bright young man who has a big heart. Seeing him light up with smiles while he has been working on this project has been extremely rewarding as parents.”
Aleck is still taking orders for the ear protectors so those who would like to request some can email Zak Dietzen at firstname.lastname@example.org.