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One Wayfairian's Mission to Help Build a More Affordable Medical Ventilator

This article is part of our series "Employee Spotlight," where we speak to and highlight some of the wonderful people who make up the exceptional teams at Wayfair.

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In May of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was heavily impacting lives across the globe, Sarah Lerner, a manager on Wayfair’s Data Architecture team, found herself chatting with her close friend Tyler Mantel. Mantel, a robotics entrepreneur at MassRobotics in Boston, had just founded TVP Health , formerly known as The Ventilator Project, a volunteer-run, non-profit organization dedicated to developing a lower-cost ventilator that would help combat the growing global ventilator shortage.

Ventilators are a vital piece of medical equipment for treating COVID-19 patients – but at the time, the world was facing a shortage crisis. In the United States alone, the shortage was as high as 600,000 units, and around 13 million units worldwide.

And, while COVID-19 brought the need for lower cost ventilators to the forefront of the conversation, the need existed long before this pandemic TVP Health set out to produce a device that can alleviate the financial burden of safe ventilatory equipment on lower income hospital systems so they can effectively treat their patients – and Sarah was all-in.

She, and about 250 other volunteers – the majority of whom are remote – were officially onboard with TVP Health in just two short weeks. Other organizations decided to help out, too: MassRobotics generously donated 40,000 square feet of office space so on-site volunteers could work safely, while another local company donated housing for out-of-town volunteers. And with that, TVP Health was up-and-running with a goal of making an easily-manufactured ventilator, while also costing significantly less than traditional ventilators, without sacrificing effectiveness.

The Ventilator Project's AIRA ventilator.
The Ventilator Project's AIRA ventilator.

“During my time at TVP Health, I’ve been able to apply a lot of the skills I’ve learned at Wayfair,” Sarah said, “like the value of clear objectives and key results to drive a team forward and how to effectively prioritize efforts (with limited resources). I’ve also learned the importance of understanding what truly motivates people to do good work, how to effectively network, and the importance of giving back to the community.”

Sarah’s time at TVP Health saw her wearing many different hats, filling in where needed until the team could identify someone to take on those roles full time: from HR, to business development, to fundraising. She onboarded a virtual team – some of whom were other volunteers from Wayfair – and created processes for their fast growing environment. Sarah also worked with manufacturers and other vendors to establish partnerships and licensing agreements, all while spearheading efforts to help TVP Health meet its fundraising goals. She has since assumed a volunteer role of Vice President of Finance, and continues to sit on the executive leadership team.

In early 2021, TVP Health officially received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration, meaning that production of their ventilator, AIRA, could begin. With the help of volunteers and leaders like Sarah, TVP Health has managed to reach this critical milestone and get one step closer to creating an affordable solution for both rural and underfunded healthcare systems – and ensuring the world is prepared with affordable and effective treatments should any future healthcare crisis arise.

For Sarah, the impact of the project extends beyond the workplace skills and experiences she’s gained; it’s also shown her what people are capable of when they work together to solve critical problems. “I continue to be humbled and inspired by the generosity of so many people, including this amazing Wayfair community – especially during a year of extreme uncertainty.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic brought the need for lower-cost ventilators to the forefront of the conversation, it was a need that existed in lower-income hospital systems long before the pandemic began – and one that will likely continue in the future. TVP Health’s AIRA ventilator is well positioned to help alleviate the financial burden of safe ventilatory equipment on those lower-income hospital systems so that they can effectively treat their patients.

If you’d like to help TVP Health with the cost of delivering these ventilators to the hospital systems that need them most, consider donating at tvphealth.org/donate . You can also sign up for TVP Health’s newsletter , where you can follow along with the latest news and updates from the project.

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