Local designers collaborate to 'Save a Hero'

Brittany Moseley
Holley Wiseman and Jess Audey cut fabric for gowns.

For Sarah Marks, it started with a text from friend and neighbor Cara Harasaki, a doctor at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Harasaki wanted to know if Marks, senior director of women’s wear at Abercrombie & Fitch, could help make personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers. For Marks, it was a no-brainer. “I'll help anybody if they ask,” she said by phone recently. 

The two first got together — from a safe distance — in mid-March to discuss what to do next. This was the first meeting of what would become Ohio Save A Hero, a grassroots organization of neighbors and friends who are creating PPE for healthcare workers across the state. The group, which is in the home stretch of reaching itsGoFundMe goal, is on track to distribute close to 8,000 pieces of PPE to more than 20 Ohio counties. That number includes 2,500 gowns, around 2,200 face shields and more than 1,000 masks. The group also purchased KN95 masks in the beginning to distribute, as well. 

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Through first- and second-hand connections, Harasaki and Marks mobilized hundreds of volunteers. Four of Harasaki’s former students at Ohio State’s College of Medicine handle the logistical side of the operation, including collecting request forms from healthcare workers and scheduling deliveries of PPE. Local small business owners from The Smithery and Sew to Speak volunteered to sew gowns and recruited some of their customers to help, as well.

Another neighbor and friend of the women, Susan King, came on board when Harasaki asked her if she knew anyone with a 3D printer who could make face masks. King’s husband works at Denison University, and he connected her to the computer science department. Her brother-in-law, an engineering and computer science teacher at Dublin Coffman High School, also recruited his students to help print masks. Two local businesses, Owens Corning and The PAST Foundation, donated funding, supplies and volunteer hours for the face masks and shields.

“At that point it was like, what can I do to help?” King said. “It was that initial feeling of anxiety and uncertainty, way more than even now, especially in those early days.”

When it came to designing the gowns, Marks teamed up with her coworker, Jess Audey, who runs the sample room at Abercrombie. Coincidently, Audey was working on a similar PPE project for OhioHealth. For Marks, the first step was becoming an expert in PPE — a term she had never heard until it became part of the coronavirus cultural lexicon. Whether she’s designing clothes for the Abercrombie girl or nylon gowns for EMS workers, she approaches every project with the same question: What is the garment’s purpose?

“What does the gown need to do? How does it need to be taken on and off? What does it need to be made for? What is its function?” Marks said. She spoke to doctors and watched videos online about how PPE gowns are taken off. After her crash course in PPE, she knew she and Audey needed to design something that was waterproof and lightweight, that could be taken off from the front of the body, and that could fit everyone from extra-small all the way through to “big EMS and fire chiefs.”

Balancing this endeavor, on top of working from home and homeschooling their kids — Marks, Harasaki and King all have children in the same first grade class — was no easy feat for the women. But both Marks and King talked about a sense of duty they felt to be of service during these difficult times.

“I feel like I’ve been way more attuned to some of the challenges facing the health care community since we’ve been trying to serve them in our little way,” King said. “A lot of us were saying that it felt really good to focus on something positive and to feel like you were making a difference in some small way. Even though sitting and cutting elastic for two hours is really boring, it felt meaningful.”

For Marks, the very real fears she had of doing simple things like going into a grocery store suddenly seemed small compared to the realities doctors and other health care professionals were facing.

“Everybody in their day-to-day life was rightly so worried about homeschooling and figuring out new ways to work from home, but in a parallel universe, these guys have got to go and intubate patients and fight this disease with literally zero protection,” Marks said. “That was a big thing for me, knowing that I was absolutely petrified to go into a Giant Eagle and touch a PIN pad or to touch a can of food that somebody might have touched. For them to then have to do a very serious thing and treat patients without any protection, or no more than what I would have to go into a store, was the big driving factor for me in it all.”