Eye on Education

UH Optometrist Inspired to Make Masks for Those on the Front Lines of Coronavirus

Print this Article | Send to Colleague

UH Optometrist Inspired to Make Masks for Those on the Front Lines of Coronavirus

A Balancing Act of Taking Care of Family, Work, Self, and Others

Amid the chaos of the global coronavirus pandemic with self-distancing, business and school shutdowns, and “Stay-At-Home” orders, one UH College of Optometry family is working hard to make the best of the situation by being flexible, sharing responsibilities, and making face masks.

Moriah Chandler and Eric Ritchey, both assistant professors with the college, are working from home and taking care of their 9-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.

Before COVID-19, the couple spent their days busy at the college. Chandler works at University Eye Institute’s Family Practice, supervising second- and third-year optometry students. She also serves as an investigator for the bifocal lenses in nearsighted kids (BLINK) study and as a lab instructor in the pediatric lab course for second-year students. Ritchey teaches the second-year students about Ophthalmic Optics, is the director of The Ocular Surface Institute (TOSI) and attends in Contacts Lens clinic.

Now the coronavirus has the whole family under one roof 24/7.

“Working from home can be tough! Getting my son to sit and do all of the distance learning his teachers have given him has been challenging. My daughter wants to ‘help’ him, but he thinks she’s being annoying,” Chandler said, “I find that I’m checking email and working on some of my projects I want to do at odd times like when the kids are asleep.”

Both parents have been tag-teaming to help the kids with their work. Chandler is also trying to use this time to teach the kids some practical life lessons, like folding laundry and working in the family vegetable garden.

In between all that, Chandler has also come up with a protective mask prototype to help shield wearers from infection.

“I was reading about all of the shortages of PPE (personal protection equipment) for health care workers and people starting to make masks to donate in other cities,” Chandler said. “I've been sewing and quilting for over fifteen years, so I happened to have a good stash of fabric.”

She researched a few designs online and cobbled together ideas from some of the better ones. “Most of the instructions floating around the net call for elastic for the earpieces,” she said. “I didn’t have any elastic in my sewing stash, so I used what I had: fabric.”

The prototype Chandler ended up with has a wired top edge. “It’s designed to fit people's noses better, a space to slip a filter in if they have them and fabric ties so you don't have to worry about latex allergies,” she said.

Whenever she gets a slice of time between work and family responsibilities, Chandler slips into her sewing room to make a few more masks. Sometimes the kids help too. The five-year-old recently practiced basic math by counting and sorting the colorful ties.

Chandler has made 65 masks to be donated to various health care providers and first responders across the country, including a women’s health clinic in Pearland, a pediatric clinic in New York, an EMS station in Fredericksburg and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Another batch of masks will soon go to optometrists in California. 

“It’s a win-win: I’m helping myself and helping others while practicing social distancing,” she said. Chandler has inspired some of her coworkers and students at the College of Optometry to also start similar projects.

She has some advice to others trying to deal with this unusual, uncertain situation.

“Don’t try for perfection! Have patience with yourself and others since we’re all in the same boat and navigating through uncharted waters,” she said. “I would also try and do something for yourself. Currently, making masks is my outlet. I can go to my sewing room, put on some music and practice some mindless mindfulness while doing something for others at the same time.”


Back to Eye on Education

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn