Founder of Ann Arbor’s homemade PPE effort shifts focus to Ukraine

Donated medical supplies from local residents were packed into IFAKs for delivery to Ukraine. (Kevin Leeser)

ANN ARBOR – Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, Kevin Leeser sprang into action.

The registered nurse has extensive experience in medical disaster response, having traveled around the world to assist in recovery efforts.

Days after the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Michigan, he began mobilizing local residents on Facebook to help print face shield components on their home 3D printers at a time when hospitals were facing a personal protective equipment shortage.

Leeser collected thousands of 3D-printed parts in a pickle barrel outside his home and later at an official collection site.

Once Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February, he felt a similar call to action.

During a recent trip to Uganda to help with the COVID-19 response effort, Leeser connected with a photographer and logistics specialist who was also interested in getting aid supplies into Ukraine.

So far, the two have managed to deliver more than $20,000 worth of first aid to the war-torn country. According to sources on the ground in Ukraine, what is most needed are tourniquets and individual first aid kits.

“When the invasion started, I said, ‘This is going to get bad,’” said Leeser. “I knew it was going to be a first aid disaster, whether or not it was going to be military enforced or just the fact of all these people are moving (around). I’ve made a couple of prototype tourniquets. I’m tapping that same kind of thing like the face shield thing -- what do you have in your kitchen that can save someone’s life?”

He said while in an ideal world he would mobilize the local maker community to once again print parts at home, experimenting with home fabrication of medical supplies adds risk if not done properly.

At the same time, quality individual first aid kits are hard to come by on sites like Amazon, said Leeser. As a result, he built a donation platform through his registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit Medical Disaster Response Inc.

He has also placed his pickle barrel in his front yard to collect medical supplies from the community to put together IFAKs for shipment. Residents can drop off items like packs of gauze, medical tape, scissors and site pads.

Leeser is building a team of medical professionals that will be based in Poland. From there, team members will be escorted to areas of Ukraine to deliver the supplies.

A pickle barrel is placed outside Ann Arbor resident Kevin Leeser's home for first aid supply collection. (Kevin Leeser)

“It gives people here something to do to help that’s not donating to the Red Cross or booking an Airbnb,” he said.

Since shipping is expensive and he wants to stretch donor funds as much as possible, Leeser found a company in Metro Detroit that fills empty cargo space on passenger planes.

He continues to post updates on the Operation Face Shield Facebook page, including pictures of the first aid supplies people have been dropping off.

To learn more about the effort, visit his website.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.