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April 27, 2020

Alumna and local Columbia ophthalmologist finds new purpose in fight against COVID-19

Impact

By: Ore Oluwole

As the coronavirus threatens health and upends daily life, the UofSC Alumni Association is spotlighting alumni making a difference to showcase the strength and resilience of the Gamecock community.

While the world began bracing for a silent and invisible enemy, Dr. Kelly Hynes Morris, owner of 20!20 Vision on Forest Drive began searching for her role in the counter-attack. With the imminent closing of her private practice, Hynes felt a calling to put her skills, network and even her own money to work helping those on the frontlines of the virus. Doctors, nurses and hospital staff would soon need an unprecedented amount of personal protection equipment or “PPE”.

Hynes knew that one day the world would again be faced with the type of death most only knew from the news or in history books. “One of the only recurring dreams I have ever had is a dream of a tsunami approaching from the distance," she says. "Well, guess what? The COVID-19 tsunami is here!” 

As a Girl Scout, the slogan “Be Prepared” never left her spirit. Hynes knew instinctively that she needed to do something, so she went to work putting together the pieces of a puzzle that would cut through red-tape and get much needed supplies to her colleagues in harm’s way.

“As COVID-19 began to creep into Columbia, I closed my practice in mid-March and my mind began racing," Hynes said. "It terrified me to see our frontline workers going in to fight this war with inadequate protection.”  

Hynes experienced a range of emotions including fear, anger and helplessness, which she channelled into a productive outlet. “My closest friends have never seen me as scared or upset about anything," she said. "We all have our own defense mechanisms, mine involved pulling together supplies and reading about the best material to use as a filter in a homemade mask.” 

Hynes, and her husband Jim Morris reached out to Morris’ son in Hong Kong hoping he might have access to someone who could fill an order of masks and other medical gear. They were amazed to hear that his friend works for one of the largest global supply chain apparel companies in the world, now a PPE supplier. “My husband and I then had a direct connection to PPE which we attempted to share with the community," she said.

After hours on the phone with various levels of hospitals, politicians, physicians and bankers, they quickly realized the logistical constraints and bureaucracy of hospital systems were insurmountable. Out of internal angst and the growing need for these supplies, they decided to take steps on their own.

“My husband and I purchased from our own funds 10,000 surgical face masks and almost 100 hazmat suits," she said. "We have since received many donations from people in the community who have a shared interest in getting supplies to first responders which will help offset these costs.”

After her initial order and distribution of masks, Hynes recruited Eddie Noyes, a local electrical engineer to begin making protective face shield headbands on three 3D printers. “He has truly been an angel from the sky," Hynes said. "As he produces batches of face shield headbands on his printers, our crew of volunteers prepare and assemble them. We’ve produced more than 500 face shields and 500 ear savers that have gone to the frontline.”

Hynes met another chance contact on Facebook, Michael Lee Faulk, a racing trainer and enthusiast in Charlotte, who was making “sneeze shields”. He stepped up to create two prototypes of intubation boxes used on the frontlines to block infectious droplets while a physician puts a patient on a ventilator. Hynes relayed specs she found on Facebook and within a few days these boxes were used on COVID-19 patients at a local Columbia hospital.  

Over the next few weeks, Hynes plans to continue to distribute face shields, masks, gloves and the remaining hazmat suits. When asked about the motivation to help others during this international crisis, Hynes says she finds some comfort knowing she has done her best to connect industrious volunteers in the community who are searching for ways to help. Along the way, she has also met some incredible friends.

“It’s incredible to see the determination and spirit of the community stepping up to serve and protect those frontline professionals who are our warriors," Hynes says.

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