Local doctor makes medical gowns from discarded material

Posted at 6:44 PM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-25 23:58:58-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — We've seen and heard lots of stories of health care workers lacking Personal Protective Equipment. That issue motivated one local doctor to take material that was being thrown away and turn it to something beneficial during these times.

Sewing is something Tifany Somer-Shely has done for years.

"I probably at one point even wanted to be a fashion designer, I think when I was a junior in high school," said Somer-Shely.

Her career path took a different route. She's now a doctor at Methodist Women's Hospital, which caused her to notice an issue once the pandemic started.

"We can't be part of the solution unless we stay well ourselves," said Somer-Shely.

Nationwide there's been shortages of PPE for doctors and nurses when they treat infected patients, including for isolation gowns.

"An isolation gown is a water-resistant gown that somebody wears to protect themselves from those respiratory droplets," said Somer-Shely.

Tools used in operations come wrapped in a material called halyard. Once the tools are taken out, that fabric is thrown away. Halyard was something some considered using masks for, and the fact it was going in the trash sparked an idea for Somer-Shely.

"If it's water-resistant enough to be used as an operating room mask, why couldn't we use it for an isolation gown?" said Somer-Shely.

She got some of that material and brought back those fashion designer skills and put together a few prototypes. The project took a few hours, but the process is much faster now after trial and error. The gowns are coming at the right time as Nebraska awaits for the peak of COVID-19 cases.

"We can still see increasing numbers for the next couple of weeks, and we want to make sure that we're absolutely positively prepared," said Somer-Shely.

The gowns are durable enough to be washed and reused if needed as a local group of quilters are volunteering their time to help put more of the gowns together.