Fellow troop member Tyler Brantley, left, helps Michael Risher, right, make a plastic isolation gown. [Submitted photo]

North Oconee High School sophomore Michael Risher was brainstorming ideas for his Eagle Scout project in the spring when he learned about a shortage of personal protective equipment among healthcare workers. 

His mother, DeeDee, worked at Piedmont Athens Regional hospital, so Michael heard how the COVID-19 disease was impacting the facility’s healthcare workers. Then, he was all the more willing to help when DeeDee provided him with the template to make plastic isolation gowns, which she had gotten from the Piedmont CEO.

To help accomplish this gown-making endeavor, Michael enlisted the help of his father, Mike, and other Scouts from the Westminster Christian Academy-based Troop 7.

Michael first bought a bunch of plastic sheets in bulk rolls for the gown material and had his father help him make a test gown to tweak the process. 

“I took it to work with me the next day, and we were having multiple meetings related to COVID-19,” DeeDee said. “I let a nurse manager try it on and figure whether or not it was going to work. They said it was great.”

Michael made some small design changes, and then he showed his troop members the gown design and explained that he needed help making them as soon as possible to address the current need. He had the other scouts sign up for shifts to help make the gowns at his house.

Volunteers were asked to wear masks, and when they would arrive, the two gown workstations were spread out to allow for social distancing. Michael provided them with sanitizer and gloves and cleaned the stations between shifts. 

Those measures made it safer and easier to focus on the task at hand. 

“We got that [template] drawn out on a table and got some guides to trace it, and we cut it [each gown] out in the shape that it needed to be,” Michael said. “Then, we folded the arms and sealed them with an iron to make the sleeve complete and cut a hole out for the head.” 

Michael also had to act as a coach for the volunteers. 

“We were having hour-and-a-half-long shifts,” he said. “Some would stay for two shifts, and I had to be there to help them be motivated and keep them positive.”

It took Michael from March until May to make approximately 300 isolation gowns. 

“As they finished a batch of them, I would take them in to work with me,” DeeDee said. “There is peace of mind knowing that there is a backup plan in the event supplies become unavailable going forward.”

Michael is glad that he could serve others by linking his Eagle Scout project to a clear and present need like the isolation gowns. 

“This project was a direct help for the community,” he said. “We were able to make sure that doctors and people at the hospital would stay safe.”

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