Uhlich and Hwang team up with Bham Face Masks to deliver 500 home face masks

Sick with COVID-19 herself, a UAB resident physician sews masks to help others.
Written by: Emma Shepard
Media contact: Bob Shepard

Editor's Note: The information published in this story is accurate at the time of publication. Always refer to uab.edu/uabunited for UAB's current guidelines and recommendations relating to COVID-19.

ResidentMask3UAB Department of Surgery general research resident Rindi Uhlich, M.D., partnered with the director of the UAB Burn Center, James Hwang, M.D., and Bham Face Masks to create and donate over 500 home face masks for frontline health care workers. 

Uhlich and Hwang coordinated efforts during their time off as the department has implemented a rotational schedule to minimize providers’ exposure to COVID-19. Faculty, residents and fellows are following this schedule in order to protect patients, themselves and their families.  

Prior to wide-ranging COVID-19 awareness, Uhlich performed a bronchoscopy on a patient in the ICU.

As Uhlich began her regularly scheduled time off, she began feeling ill within the first days. She learned that the bronchoscopy patient has tested positive for COVID-19. Soon, Uhlich also tested positive. Her time off was extended to allow her to make a full recovery and return to work without spreading the virus to anyone around her.

During this time of recovery, Uhlich began to feel restless at home and wanted to contribute to the front lines in some way. Many health care workers, who are used to 12-hour intensive shifts every day, are experiencing this itch to get back into the swing of their normal routines.

“I felt hopeless at home and wanted to do something useful, so I decided to start sewing PPE,” Uhlich said. “I reached out to a few of my neighbors and learned that they had a started a group called ‘Bham Face Masks’ and were organizing locally made face masks.”

Bham Face Masks is a coordinated community group organizing the creation and donation of face masks around the Birmingham area. The group shared that the masks “are intended to be used in low-risk scenarios to save N95 and other high-level PPE for use with COVID-19 and other droplet precaution patients.” Anyone in the community can make a formal request for masks — from health care to personal needs.

Once she recovered, Uhlich washed, prepped and sanitized the masks that she, Hwang and others in the community had sewn for frontline health care workers. In total, working with Bham Face Masks, Uhlich and Hwang assisted in donating over 500 masks of all patterns and fabrics to various Birmingham organizations needing access to PPE. 

“The Birmingham community’s response has been nothing short of heartwarming and inspirational,” Uhlich said. “They have formed this intricate network of drop-off centers and sorting centers.”

Hwang was delighted to support the efforts of the community face mask drive as well. 

“For providers and other frontline workers, it is such a morale boost to know that the community is looking out for us and using their own time to create masks,” Hwang said. “The Birmingham spirit is so incredible to witness at this time in history.”

In the future, Uhlich hopes that a tried, tested and true solution to the PPE shortage will be implemented to allow for elective surgeries to return, especially for cancer patients of the department.

UAB Hospital has created a list of items that they are accepting at this time, which is available here. After reviewing the list, complete this UAB Medicine form to donate commercially manufactured, new and unopened PPE items.