B.C. boy finds internet fame after 3D printing ear guards for doctors and nurses

Quinn Callander, 12, inadvertently starts international movement

When Quinn Callander and his mother Heather Roney entered an online contest, they thought they had a pretty good chance at winning a camp-stove. What they didn’t expect, however, was to become an overnight sensation and start an international movement that directly improves the lives of frontline health-care workers.

Earlier this month, the Maple Ridge News published an article featuring seventh-grader Callander and his effort to build hundreds of ear guards using a 3D printer – devices that allow health-care workers to tie medical masks to the back of their head, relieving pressure on their ears during 12-hour shifts.

RELATED: Maple Ridge scout makes nifty tool to aid front-line workers

Roney snapped a photo of her son holding the ear guards, entered the pictures in a Scouts Canada photo contest and published them on her Facebook page.

The Facebook post almost immediately went viral, exploding to 461,000 shares, 287,000 likes and 57,000 comments in less than three weeks.

Quinn and Roney agreed that the highlight of the new-found-fame has been reading feedback from health-care workers.

“We’ve had so many messages from people that have been so thankful that they’re able to focus on their patients, rather than the pain that they’re experiencing. We’ve also heard from a lot of people that we haven’t really thought (about) in the world that can’t wear masks. Due to the fact that they may not have an ear… now they can actually wear a mask,” Roney said.

There’s little sign of fatigue in their 15-minutes-of-fame. This Wednesday, Quinn is to be featured on an episode of Dr. Phil, which was filmed last week.

“It was great. I mean, it probably would have been more exciting before COVID-19 to fly to Los Angeles, but it was a Zoom interview. He was the feel good story of the broadcast, which featured a lot of medical professionals talking about COVID-19 and some of the research they’re doing. Then they brought on Quinn to cheer everyone up,” Roney said.

Although he remains humble and hard at work – to date, he’s printed more than 1,000 devices – Quinn was thrilled to receive a call from Scouts Canada.

“We get excited for the big stuff and (Quinn) gets excited for things like the World Organization of Scouting interviewed him… For him, that was a huge deal. For us, we’re going to be on Dr. Phil on Wednesday, that was a big deal,” Roney said.

Roney said she lost count of how many interviews they have done with news organizations across the world. But for Quinn, “it’s all just a day’s work.”

“He’s such a laid back kid. My husband and I share the stories with him, the videos, the comments online. He takes it with a, you know, “cool,” and goes back to what he was doing.”

Unfortunately, Quinn didn’t win the camp-stove. However, his efforts were paid off in the much bigger way.

“(Scouts) is so happy, they offered to distribute those ear guards for us at their expense using their retail locations. So we’ll be able to affordably get them across the country.”

Roney said the attention has spurred companies to follow suite. She said some manufactures have repurposed their equipment to make injection molds to mass produce the product. One manufacture said they will deliver 10,000 ear guards for her to distribute in Canada.

RELATED: Sewers stitch masks to free up supplies for front-line health-care workers

Even so, there’s a bigger picture of Quinn’s story, and that, too, has a connection to Maple Ridge.

Quinn pulled the design for the ear guards off Thingiverse.com, a website where people can share and modify 3D printed plans.

Unbeknownst to him, the design that Quinn used was created and uploaded by Maple Ridge resident Ken Lord.

Call it fate or call it coincidence, Lord is also remaining humble about the experience.

“It’s been pretty amazing. I, honestly, don’t really deserve much credit. I was just kind of lucky to have a link to my version of the design included in their crazy viral Facebook post,” Lord said Monday.

“My design was just a minor modification of another person’s design, a person who actually lives in Hong Kong. He freely shared his version and I just punched a hole in it to make it print a little quicker and use less material,” Lord said.

Uploaded March 29, the “Surgical Mask Strap Remix” 3D blueprint has been downloaded nearly 80,000 times.

“You have to figure that nearly all of the people would do at least a test print. There’s definitely people out there that are printing hundreds of them. Who knows what the total number could be, it could easily be a million of them. Who knows,” Lord said.

Lord laughed when he shared the statistics of his other 3D design upload.

“The only other design I’ve ever shared has a grand total of about 15 downloads over two years,” he said.

For his part, Lord has printed about 4,000 of the ear savers. His employer, BGC Engineering, has supported him with the use of their 3D printer and offered to pay for the supplies.

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