Nurse practioner Nicole Merrill tries on a surgical mask strap retainer at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston on Wednesday. Travis Ritchie, center, of Mechanic Falls made the retailer on his 3-D printer and, with his daughter, Luna, 5, dropped off 50 at the medical center Wednesday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Travis Ritchie of Mechanic Falls said his one-man operation to produce face mask straps is worth his time and money to help during the coronavirus pandemic.

The surgical mask strap retainers Travis Ritchie made using a 3-D printer keeps the mask straps off the ears. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The Lewiston public schools teacher, who instructs in the science/technology/engineering/math program, wanted to put his 3-D printing skills to use free of charge.

A tag on Facebook from his day care provider led him to a British Columbia Boy Scout, Quinn Callander, 12, who has been churning out dozens of ear savers to alleviate the pressure from elastic bands on medical masks. The plastic straps pull the elastic bands away from the ears.

“I found out that this design was approved by the National Institute of Health . . ., ” Ritchie said. “When I found out it was approved already, and he has been making them by the thousands, I believed it at that point.

“I was like, ‘All right, finally something I can actually make that would have some use. What (Callander) did was he uploaded his design to a 3-D website that is very well-known called thingiverse. So there was a link to his device there so I clinked on the link, researched it and just downloaded the link for free and started spitting out those mask things a couple of minutes later.”

Ritchie is offering the product free to hospitals or other medical businesses.

“When I heard that nurses wearing these face masks for 12-hour shifts where they’re having the backs of the ears wear out . . . that’s a problem that could easily be solved,” he said. “This design landed in my lap and I’ve got seven of them printing right now in my room.”

Travis Ritchie explains to his 5-year-old daughter, Luna, what the COVID-19 testing tent is used for while waiting to hand off 50 surgical mask strap retainers at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston on Wednesday. Luna is a kindergarten student on an extended break because of the coronavirus pandemic. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The cost of the plastic filament is small and the personal reward of helping others is paying big dividends.

“I have been running my machine for 24 hours a day and that doesn’t cost me anything but filament,” he said.

After a couple of days of production, he reached out on the Lewiston Rocks Facebook page to find those who could use the straps. Someone pointed him to Stephen Costello, director of philanthropy at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center.

“He is going to deliver them and I am to see if this is something we can utilize here,” Costello said.

“Listen, we encourage anybody and everybody that wants to help making masks or whatever,” Costello said. “If we can’t use them, we can find a use for them somewhere in the community or the nutrition center or something.”

Ritchie, 36, said he will continue making the product until the virus abates.

“I will run that 3-D printer until it breaks down and I will fix it,” he said. “I am just happy I can be useful.”

For more information about Callander’s strap design, go to:

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