CAGUAS, PUERTO RICO
The stainless-steel and plexiglass device, sitting just off the factory floor in central Puerto Rico, twitches rhythmically, it’s metal and plastic pincers squeezing a lifesaving ventilator bag.
The assisted breathing device on display at AutoPak is designed to be simple — an emergency “bridge” apparatus to keep people afflicted by the coronavirus and in respiratory distress off of invasive ventilators as long as possible.
Based on designs from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the machine has been tweaked and modified by a team of Puerto Rican researchers and engineers to make it a homegrown, Boricua, device. In the process, the machine, known as the A3B Puerto Rico Ventilator, has become a symbol of the island’s pharmaceutical know-how.
When the coronavirus was first detected in Puerto Rico on March 13, it set off alarms across the U.S. territory. The island is still recovering from the 2017 hurricane season and a series of damaging earthquakes that began in late 2019 — not to mention a decade-long economic downturn.
The images of hospitals in Italy, Spain, and New York overwhelmed by coronavirus patients seemed like warnings of things to come. At the time, health officials said they had fewer than 550 ventilators on the island; a disaster seemed imminent.