LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Personal protective equipment, or PPE, continues to be in short supply as hospitals battle a surge of new coronavirus cases. Enter high school senior Edward Aguilar. He and a group of friends gathered more than a thousand volunteers to make and deliver PPE using 3D printers to health care workers all over the U.S. They called it Paralink. And in their home state of Georgia, a COVID-19 hot spot, they had delivered more PPE than even FEMA. Edward Aguilar joins us now from Alpharetta, Ga. Welcome to the program.
EDWARD AGUILAR: Hi. Thank you for having me.
FADEL: So how'd you get this idea?
AGUILAR: Well, it actually (laughter) - it started, in my perspective, a really long time ago back in January. We saw that a lot of our teachers didn't have enough time to make their own food or go get food, so we wanted to give them an Uber Eats-like service, but in a way that they wouldn't be charged through the wazoo for using it. So we created our own network. We signed contracts with people like Starbucks and Chick-fil-A here locally, and we got some drivers and we delivered for them.
And the issue was that the same day that we launched that food delivery service and we delivered to 80 of our teachers, our school got hit by COVID and everything got shut down. And what really hit home for us was that that same night, I was sitting at home with one of our co-founders - his name is Shourya - and we get a call from his cousin. And his cousin is a doctor at Emory, which was just 40 minutes away. And he starts breaking down. He starts talking about what was going on at the hospital. They were losing a lot of PPE. There was - all the hospital beds were filled.
And I'm sitting there next to Shourya listening to him and his cousin talking about this, and I'm like, I'm not sure if this system will work, but we need to try 'cause if this can deliver food, maybe it can deliver PPE. So that same night, we called 15 local hospitals, figured out what they need, how they needed it delivered. And the next day, we went to all of our neighbors, and we collected bleach, we collected Lysol wipes, masks and gloves that people had stocked up, and we made our first delivery that day.
FADEL: So describe what you're making now because it's not just bleach and Lysol wipes that you get now, right?
AGUILAR: Today, we deliver primarily face shields. Half of them are manufactured, half - in a traditional environment. And the other half are done with 3D printers, and that's what's really allowed us to get to this scale. So what we do is that we print out the top bit - the headband, it's called - and then we plug in a sheet of plastic into the front of that. And this is a design that was given to us by some of our advisers. So today, we deliver face shields and gowns and intubation chambers, which protect doctors from the people that they're performing surgery on, and, of course, masks as well in an ever-increasing amount.
FADEL: You know, I'm assuming - so you're doing this. You're also going to school.
AGUILAR: (Laughter) Yeah. That was something that really hit our teachers hard because I had to get into certain calls where they were like, listen; you've missed your first two classes today. Where were you? And, you know, obviously, I didn't want to say anything in the beginning. I think I even operated under a pseudonym. You can find early interviews of me under the name of Noah Valence (ph) 'cause, you know, I didn't want to take credit for any of this.
But after a certain point, I was spending so much time on Paralink and falling behind on so many classes, I had to go to my teachers and - you know, listen; I know you're not going to believe this. I have a call with a Stanford professor tonight, and he's going to teach me how should I start doing reverse supply chains. What should I look into? And, like, yeah, sure you do. And so I've had times where I had to get my mentors and the people who are helping me to get into calls with my teachers. So from that point, when everybody kind of realized what was going on, they were a lot more helpful with allowing me to complete virtual school at the time.
FADEL: What made you go from anonymous to public about this?
AGUILAR: There was a lot of personal reasons, a lot of them tied to my own understanding of what my name was. I have a Hispanic background. And I feel going a little bit more of a personal level that if I went out with that name, in part, I don't think anybody would've taken me as seriously.
FADEL: We spoke a little bit about how you're distributing more than FEMA in your area. Has Paralink been contacted by local - by federal agencies about partnerships, about ways you can work together to deal with this break in the supply chain shortages?
AGUILAR: (Laughter) I mean, I wish. That would've been pretty cool. We have never gotten a call from the mayor. We've never gotten a call from our governor, nevertheless the president, of course, to see how they can start implementing these ideas into more communities, see how we can work together. And that's kind of what makes me lose faith in the system because in the beginning, when I started this, was that, listen; I'm sure they have good motives, the government - or FEMA, rather - but they're just not able to act them out for whatever reason. And after a while of not getting that phone call, you have to start asking, like, why aren't they calling?
FADEL: That was Edward Aguilar. He, along with friends Michael Giusto, Shourya Seth, Sahan Reddy (ph) and Jordan Umusu, are the founders of Paralink, which provides PPE to health care workers across the country. Edward, thank you for coming on the program.
AGUILAR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.