Legally blind in one eye, Bunnell Elementary student tries to improve the comfort of health care workers — including those who could care for him.
Drew Medearis, 12, is a brand new Boy Scout — not yet a tenderfoot — but already he has taken to heart the scout slogan, “Do a good turn daily.”
Thanks to two 3-D printers on loan from Flagler Palm Coast High School, Drew has been making plastic ear savers every day during the coronavirus pandemic and delivering them to health care workers and first responders in three counties, to make it more comfortable to wear face masks.
"Ear savers fit on the back of the head/neck area and have plastic hooks for the mask ear loops to attach to," Claudia Maury, of AdventHealth, wrote in an email to the Palm Coast Observer. "These devices relieve the pressure off the ears and are very comfortable. Wally De Aquino, COO of AdventHealth Palm Coast, said they really make a difference for comfort."
It takes 3 hours, 10 minutes to print 10 ear savers. To date, Drew, a Bunnell Elementary School student, has delivered 3,200.
“I really wanted to help my community,” Drew said in a phone interview with the Palm Coast Observer.
With the help of parents Andrew and Susan, Drew has delivered ear savers to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, the Bunnell and Flagler Beach police departments, AdventHealth Palm Coast and the Palm Coast Fire Department, just to name a few. He has also helped a health care facility with which he has a personal connection: Nemours Children's Specialty Care, in Jacksonville.
It was there that Drew had his first eye surgery, when he was 9. And it was there that he was scheduled to have his second eye surgery on April 15, 2020. Unfortunately, that one had to be delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Drew is legally blind in his right eye, and he will be for weeks to come. Yet, rather than feel sorry for himself, he has still worked every day to help others.
“He turned it from a negative into a positive,” said Drew’s father, Andrew Medearis.
Under the magnifying glass
Drew was born with bilateral congenital cataracts, but his parents, Susan and Andrew, didn’t realize he couldn’t see well until Drew was 6 years old.
“He was overcompensating, and he did a great job faking it,” Susan Medearis said.
When Drew was learning to read, he could manage when the font size was large, as in many picture books. But when he tried to start reading a smaller-font chapter book, like a Junie B. Jones book, he couldn’t do it. He failed the screening test at school.
The doctors told the family that Drew’s cataracts would slowly become opaque. But insurance wouldn’t pay for surgery until the cataracts reached a certain threshold.
His left eye worsened faster than his right, until, at age 9, he had to use a magnifying glass with a bright light just to read his third grade homework.
The first surgery was successful, and now his left eye has 25/20 vision — better than most. His right eye, however, is 20/200.
He was looking forward to having his eyesight corrected on April 15, followed by a recovery period, which would allow him to have a “normal” summer. Instead, his parents are still seeking a new date to reschedule.
In the mean time, Drew's eyesight hasn’t stopped him from operating a 3-D printer.
Hands for service
Drew saw a social media post from a Boy Scout making ear savers in Canada early in the pandemic, and he decided to try to do the same.
In addition to being a scout, Drew is also active in 4H, in which members say a pledge to use their “hands for larger service.”
Andrew Medearis is a life sciences and fine arts teacher at i3 Academy on the FPC campus, and he made arrangements to borrow two printers. He helped Drew set them up at home.
“We run them every day,” Drew said.
“I’m proud of how much he’s learned,” said Susan Medearis, who teaches at Bunnell Elementary School. “My husband taught him how to take the trays out and troubleshoot, and now Drew does it all by himself.” She added with a laugh, “I know nothing. I stay out of it.”
What’s next? Drew is exploring plans to make face shields out of transparencies from projectors.
“He’s really incorporating everything that he’s learning and carrying it out in a project he can completely do that doesn’t involve us as parents to push him to do,” Andrew Medearis said.