Laurentians Inspire: Chris Wiles '12 | St. Lawrence University

Laurentians Inspire: Chris Wiles '12

There’s a shortage of personal protective equipment for those on the front lines of the global COVID-19 pandemic, but Chris Wiles ’12 has created a solution that will help–and he has provided blueprints that have inspired countless others to do the same.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's eased the recommendations concerning N95s, the top-of-the-line respirators for protective face masks used by doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients, Wiles, who is in his first year of a four-year anesthesiology residency at the University of Connecticut, leveraged his passion for both medicine and engineering and designed an inexpensive alternative that not only can be produced with a 3D printer, but could be reusable for up to two weeks if the filter is changed regularly.

“With COVID-19 happening, I found a way to get involved earlier than I anticipated," Wiles shared with The Day, a Connecticut-based daily newspaper. “When the CDC recommends that if — and only if — you run out of N95s, you can use alternative, handmade devices, including bandanas and scarves. When I saw that, I said I can do better. I'm going to try to make a difference."

Wiles’ desire to help others traces back to his time as an undergraduate. “When I came to St. Lawrence, I intended to do something related to science, but didn’t know if I wanted to do engineering, finance, or medicine,” Wiles explains.

He chose to major in biology, spending many nights in Johnson Hall of Science with friends brainstorming ideas for inventions. He was also an active member of St. Lawrence University’s Emergency Medical Services, or SLU EMS, a student-run and New York State certified EMS agency that provides basic Life Support (BLS) first response services to campus and the surrounding area.

“I loved the sciences at SLU and being an EMT, and those experiences steered me towards medicine,” he says.

Chris Wiles '12 developed a 3D printed mask tutorial and shared it on YouTube.

After graduating from St. Lawrence, he pursued an advanced degree at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia and eventually attended medical school at New York Institute of Technology’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. Although his residency has kept him plenty busy, Wiles has spent any free time he has making masks.  

The pandemic challenges facing states throughout the U.S. and countries around the world grow increasingly complex each day, yet Wiles spent his time at St. Lawrence and the years since then preparing himself to solve problems in critical moments like this. That’s why, in addition to making masks, he posted a detailed tutorial on how to build them on YouTube so as many people as possible could start making them. As of April 2, his video had been viewed more than 52,000 times.

Hartford Hospital, UConn Health and St. Francis Hospital, all in Connecticut, have now set up 3D printers to make Wiles’ masks, as have other entities across the country. He had more than 80 colleagues volunteer to help assemble masks, so he set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to buy more printers and surpassed his $10,000 fundraising goal in less than a week. His efforts have garnered regional media attention, too.

“I never thought it would take off like this, but I want [the masks] to reach as many people as possible,” Wiles shared with NBC Connecticut in a recent interview. “I want this to reach people and actually save lives.”

Do you know an inspiring Laurentian who is helping others during the COVID-19 pandemic? Email those stories to Meg at mkeniston@stlawu.edu.