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Comox maker creates special 3D tool for hospital use

A need for specialized training equipment at the Comox Valley Hospital has produced unique relationship between a local healthcare worker and a Comox teen.

A need for specialized training equipment at the Comox Valley Hospital has produced unique relationship between a local healthcare worker and a Comox teen.

When the Comox Valley Hospital clinical nurse educator for critical care Bronwen LeGuerrier learned about a training opportunity for local emergency staff that required a 3D printed part, she knew it was worth pursuing.

The training cric would allow emergency physicians and nurses to practice a rare procedure (cricothyroidotomy) that saves lives for patients experiencing severe breathing difficulties. A cricothyrotomy is an incision made through the skin and cricothyroid membrane to establish a patent airway during certain life-threatening situations, such as airway obstruction.

“When someone is unable to breathe on their own and medical staff cannot insert a breathing tube for various reasons (swelling, anatomy, etc) we, very rarely, have to make a cut in the front of the neck to insert a tube there to help that person breath,” explained LeGuerrier. “The cric trainer is an anatomically correct replica of the adam’s apple area of a person’s neck that doctors and nurses use to train for this procedure.

“I read about the cric trainer on the Airway App website. I had no idea where to start and I’m so glad we found Sophia.”

A fellow nurse made the introduction through a family friend.

Sophia Vaillant is a self-proclaimed maker. In her spare time she 3D prints, sews, and makes robots. When the opportunity to help the local hospital arose she was excited to get involved.

“It is such a great experience to get to make something that will actually help people,” Vaillant said.

While the part was simple enough, there was an opportunity to print it out of a material that would give the part a more life-like feel.

Sophia Vaillant shows the crics she created with a 3D printer, that will play a crucial role in hospital training. Photo supplied

“This is where the learning came in,” said Vaillant. “I struggled with it myself for a while but eventually I reached out to the local maker community. The material was just too tricky for my home printer.”

Vaillant collaborated with another maker in the Valley who stepped up to share his experience right away.

“We have a great maker community in the Valley. I was happy to help with such a cool project,” said maker mentor Steve Hogg. “It is always so cool to see young people eager to learn.”

Steve lent his high-end printer to the cause and the training tools are now in use at the hospital.

“I can’t believe how much this experience taught me, ” said Vaillant. “Making is not just about the technology. I learned how to manage a professional project and I learned that when I need help - the community is there.”

New youth maker club

With the help of ENTER teacher Roger Vernon, Vaillant is starting a youth maker club she calls “Zenius Labs” at Highland this year. Students interested in both art and technology will have the opportunity to work on unique projects like this one. The club is open to all students aged 15 and older.

Her plan is to invite younger children to submit plans for inventions that solve environmental problems, and then choose the most interesting inventions to build as prototypes.

“Kids have the craziest ideas,” Vaillant said. “I thought it would be cool to try and make their dreams a reality.”

Her group hopes to collaborate with an international project based out of the UK called Little Inventors.

The youth will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school to work on the inventions. She hopes that using a collaborative framework rather than competition will draw in more creative youth.

“I think a lot of opportunities in STEM tend to be competitive and that can be really intimidating for some people,” said Vaillant. “Community is key. This project was proof of that.”

For more information about Zenius Labs contact Vaillant at

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