MIT Families Rally to Support Institute’s Covid-19 Response

At a time like no other in MIT’s history, the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the unique resources the Institute brings to bear in a world health crisis. MIT faculty, students, staff, and alumni have risen to the challenges posed by the pandemic, some working to design and manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE), others racing to find vaccines and treatments that will save lives.

Financial support for ventilator innovation

While friends of the Institute from all over the world have supported MIT’s response to Covid-19, families of current MIT students have been particularly active. “When I watched what was happening and saw that people were worried about triaging resources, I contacted MIT and said, ‘what do you need and how can I help?’” says Jeremy Wertheimer SM ’89, PhD ’96, whose daughter attends the Institute.

After a discussion with Alex Slocum ’82, SM ’83, PhD ’85, the Walter M. May and A. Hazel May Professor in Emerging Technologies, Wertheimer and his wife, Joyce Wertheimer ’83, provided substantial financial support to the MIT Emergency Ventilator team, which was formed in response to a worldwide shortage of ventilators. The team includes both engineers and doctors and is working to design ventilators that can be quickly produced at a lower cost than standard hospital equipment.

“There are ways of helping and supporting people affected by Covid-19 that will take much longer,” says Wertheimer. “But this is engineering and we know how to do it.”

Sourcing and distribution of PPE

Xinge Hu, a cardiologist at the Permanente Medical Group in California and the parent of a rising MIT junior, directed her efforts to the sourcing and distribution of PPE. Because of regular contact with classmates and friends in China, Hu recognized very early in 2020 that Covid-19 posed grave danger. “Things were already bad in China, but people here weren’t aware,” says Hu. “I knew this thing was coming.”

On a planned vacation from work during her younger children’s school break, Hu spent hours on the phone with volunteers and philanthropists to coordinate donations of PPE to US hospitals. Funded by a generous donor at the Palo Alto-based Enlight Foundation, Hu used her medical expertise to quickly assess the most critical needs of health care providers. “We figured out who needed some and how many,” she explains. “We asked how many beds were in each hospital, how many patients, and how many ventilators.”

Originally intending to provide PPE to Bay Area hospitals, Hu quickly saw that the East Coast would have greater immediate needs. The Enlight Foundation had sourced more than 250,000 pieces of PPE, and Hu persuaded the donors to allocate half of it to several hospitals in New York City and New Jersey.

When she started receiving requests from frontline health care workers in Boston, however, Hu found that bureaucratic complications made it difficult to help without a local contact. Through her involvement with the MIT Parents Leadership Circle, she learned of the newly formed MIT Medical Outreach Team led by Elazer Edelman ’78, SM ’79, PhD ’84, director of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), the Edward J. Poitras Professor at IMES, and a senior attending physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “I thought it was a good idea to have a collaborator in each region, and I connected with the Outreach Team,” she says. “A shipment from China that we were supposed to get in the beginning of April was delayed for a long time, but when it finally came, they shipped it to MIT.” Thanks to the efforts of Hu and financial support from the Enlight Foundation, Edelman’s team was able to distribute 20,000 N95 masks to Boston hospitals.

WeChat MIT parent group leads to collective action

More than 200 families of current MIT students who share Chinese heritage had connected through a WeChat group when Covid-19 struck, and that online relationship facilitated their response to the crisis. “We saw the MIT Covid-19 alert from Dr. Edelman stating that MIT was collecting and donating excess PPE to local hospitals,” explains MIT parent and alumna Kay Hsu ’90, SM ’91. “That’s when we realized Boston was in a dire situation. We quickly decided to do our part in helping the MIT community and its surrounding areas by procuring face masks to donate to Boston hospitals.”

Hsu and three other MIT parents, Grace Huang, Nancy Yang, and Zhiyong Tian, quickly divided up the work and solicited help from their networks. The WeChat platform made it possible for them to efficiently solicit and collect donations from 220 families, after which they identified a vendor of FDA-approved PPE in China. The group obtained 5,000 face masks and donated them to Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center. “This was a great opportunity for our community to come together and collaborate on a common goal,” says Hsu.

After donating the face masks, the group chose to direct subsequent monies raised to MIT’s Covid-19 Emergency Fund. “We were all happy to contribute to the safety of the MIT community, including students, faculty, and staff,” says Hsu. “We wanted to do what was best for MIT.”

Widespread support

Members of the MIT community living all over the world have generously supported the Institute’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing more than $7 million to bolster MIT’s efforts. If you would like to help, please contact David Woodruff at daw@mit.edu.