STONY BROOK, NY, May 14, 2020 – When COVID-19 started to spread in the United States, siblings Karen Tsai, MD ’17 and Kevin Tsai, MD ‘19 leapt into action. Both graduates of the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, the young doctors knew they wanted to help their former colleagues and teachers on the frontline at Stony Brook University Hospital. Their donation of face masks to the University in March was just the beginning of their mission to help essential workers in hospitals across the United States. Through their organization DonatePPE.org, which Karen co-founded, more than 1.2 million PPE has been donated to hospitals in COVID hotspots such as New York City, the Bay area, Southern California, New Orleans, Atlanta, Chicago and Boston to date.
Karen worked to launch DonatePPE.org, and organized a volunteer team – which includes her brother Kevin. The team quickly grew to more than 30 volunteers ranging from web developers to healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. The siblings are both residents practicing in Los Angeles.
Kevin helps operate the website, writes news articles about incoming donations and ongoing collaborations with PPE producers and sponsors, and provides unique insight from the anesthesiology/airway perspective based on his medical expertise. Together outside their work-hours, the Tsai siblings are making calls, directing shipments, and sourcing PPE vendors, all while driving and delivering PPE to hospitals across Los Angeles.
Karen and Kevin and their fellow volunteers are continuing to work to procure more PPE to get out to the many areas in the U.S. still in need. At the same time, as physicians in hospitals with COVID patients, they face the same dangers as the people they are helping to protect and carry out their duties as physicians on the front lines.
Their organization is going beyond securing PPEs for those on the front lines and is finding ways to reach different audiences to spread awareness of the ongoing COVID situation.
“We launched a new interactive art project on May 2 with Guy Gilchrist, world-renown illustrator best known as Jim Henson’s cartoonist and for his art of The Muppets. We post downloadable coloring pages, sketches and comic strips depicting both iconic and original characters straight from the drawing table of Guy Gilchrist to engage children and families through art during these difficult times,” Karen explained. “We also launched a campaign, Our Strength is Our Beauty, on International Nurses Day on May 12 to highlight the beauty in strength of individual healthcare workers around the world fighting COVID-19 on the frontlines.”
The idea for the organization started with automated driving engineer Deyu Kong, an acquaintance of Karen’s who was closely following the news about the struggles healthcare workers were facing as COVID-19 surged in their countries. Kong, as a resident of California, knew that because of the constant forest fires, many people had N95s masks reserved in their homes, and that construction companies, dentists and other businesses also had PPE that would be much more useful in the hands of doctors and nurses on the frontlines of this crisis. The question was how to get those masks into the right hands.
Kong reached out to Karen for her insight as a medical professional and input in creating a website to encourage donations and facilitate the placement of PPE to those who most desperately needed it. In one day, they pulled the site together and DonatePPE launched on March 19.
In its first two weeks, with help from Karen’s network of medical colleagues, the site connected hospitals with an estimated 100,000 articles of PPE, including N95 respirators, surgical masks, face shields, gowns, shoe covers and goggles.