These Doctors Started a Movement to ‘Mask a Hero’


Two anesthesiologists on bringing PPE to the hospitals and other first responders that need it the most

When it became clear that the U.S. didn’t have enough protective gear to go around to all of its first responders, grassroots movements — many founded by front line workers themselves — began to pop up. As they saw their colleagues express fear over shortages, Dr. Emily Levin and Dr. Michelle Kars, two NYC anesthesiologists, teamed up to create Mask a Hero NY. Since it’s surfaced 30,000 masks for first responders in need.

And Dr. Lakesha Legree of Charlotte, North Carolina, made the movement national, with Mask a Hero. Read more on who’s been helped and what it’s like being an anesthesiologist right now.

Wake-Up Call: How did Mask A Hero NY start?

Michelle: Early on, Emily and I identified that there was going to be this shortage of PPE through connections on social media and online forums we had with other physicians across the country. We had been hearing the experiences of anesthesiologists in Washington State where they were seeing these cases even before New York, and they were describing how they were trying to manage with the severe shortage of masks.

It really started with a social media post. We put out a call asking the community to look in their houses, their business (nail salons, construction companies, etc) to see the availability of these masks. We received a really incredible response. We quickly got some friends together and got a website up-and-running in three days, to match donations to healthcare providers in need.

We collaborated with another female anesthesiologist, Dr. Lakeisha Legree in Charlotte, NC who basically took this nationwide, creating the Mask a Hero campaign. We’ve reached 20 states to date.

To date, how many mask donations have you received for Mask a Hero NY?

Emily: In New York, we’ve received over 30,000 mask donations over two weeks. We have over 150 requests for masks just in the New York area — from firefighters, physicians, nurses, first responders, nursing homes, and more. We have a lot of people who will write in, “I want to help however I can. I have a box of 10 masks from Home Depot. Who can I give it to?” We’re really trying to match even small donations up with places and people who need it. Every little bit counts.

How are you executing how these masks are distributed?

Emily: We are focusing on the New York City metropolitan area. We have different base points for people to pick up and drop off donations.

Michelle: We have a great team of friends and colleagues who want to get involved who help us pick up, match up, and distribute donations.

Do you accept other donations besides masks?

Emily: While we’ve been focusing on masks, we also really do need gowns, face shields and goggles. So we’re accepting those as donations as well.

Have you heard from people who have benefited from your donations?

Emily: Nurses and physicians have reached out to us, saying they were given one mask to wear for a week. They’ve stressed that many in hospitals feel unsafe and upset that they don’t have the appropriate equipment to face Covid-19. Because of our movement, people have been able to feel safer on the job.

Michelle: When we’re outside the hospital and not taking care of COVID patients, it’s been so nice to connect with all these different providers throughout New York. They’re emailing and texting us, sending us pictures of their staff so happy to have the PPE. That’s been so nice for us.

You both are anesthesiologists and many doctors are having to step in and help out in Covid-19 units. How have your daily routines changed?

Michelle: We are still taking care of patients in the operating room — mostly for emergencies, most often related to Covid-19. But we’re also part of a team that puts patients on the ventilators throughout the hospital. For us, that’s a high risk procedure. We’re in direct contact with droplets of the virus, and it’s at a point when the patients are requiring intensive care. Anesthesiologists have played a big role in this during this crisis.

Emily: It’s one of the highest risk procedures. We’ve all been working together as a team to do this safely, to decrease the risk of anyone getting infected. I was in the ICU doing one of the intibatutions yesterday. One of the nurses just needed a moment: She just burst into tears and walked away. And everyone was there — we gave her a moment and everyone was there to help, talk it out, and say: “We’re all here, we’re going to get through this even though it’s awful right now.”

Do you generally feel pretty safe at work? Do you have adequate PPE and other medical equipment?

Michelle: Our leadership and our department at our hospital worked really hard to make sure we’re as protected as possible. Right now, we do feel safe, but we do know there is a potential for this shortage based purely on the numbers of patients we’ve been seeing.

What is something right now that is giving you hope for the future and giving you some peace of mind?

Emily: We’re both physicians but we’re also both mothers and have families. We have to maintain hope for our kids. We come home and go for walks outside. You kind of have to force yourself out of the terribleness of being at a hospital, and be present with your kids, and enjoy spending time together.

Michelle: On the clinical side, we’re all hoping that we’re starting to get to the other side of this. We’re hearing about a little more research here and there, a few more solutions, some potential treatments. I feel hope on that end: With each day, we’re getting better at treating patients.

How can people help and donate if they have extra equipment or if they want to make cash donations?

Michelle: You can visit our main nationwide website and we are now a non-profit so we can now accept monetary donations so that masks and other equipment can be bought to distribute. Through the main site, you can be directed to the NY site but you can also see all the other states that are up and running. Also you can find us on social media to help spread the word.

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