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Project Breath of Air: IDF’s Military Intelligence Teams with Sheba to Develop a New Way to Make Ventilators

project breath of air
Israel’s Unit 81 works with Sheba’s medical personnel to transform non-invasive ventilators, commonly used for people with non-critical respiratory conditions, into advanced hospital-grade ventilators for COVID-19 patients.

The IDF’s elite technological Unit 81 and Sheba Medical Center have pioneered a new method for converting non-invasive respirators, such as CPAP and BPAP, which are typically used at home for patients with respiratory conditions, into machines with the capabilities to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients. The new hospital-grade device was developed as part of Unit 81’s Project Breath of Air, and Israel’s Ministry of Health has already ordered its first 1,000 devices.

“After four weeks of intensive work, we finished the development of the first respiratory machine,” Maj. S., of Unit 81, told reporters by conference call on Thursday. “We found ourselves part of the Israeli efforts to deal with the challenge of a lack of hospital ventilators. We brought our top engineers from the unit to solve this problem.”

A series of trials demonstrated that the re-engineered machines can be used to treat COVID-19 patients who are critically ill. Using an advanced simulator at Sheba Medical Center, the prototype for the new ventilator was tested. Since then, 100 machines have been delivered to Sheba, and the baseline goal is to manufacture 100 machines per day.

Non-invasive machines generally provide one or two pressure levels, but they are not made to treat patients who suffer from acute respiratory distress syndrome. Because COVID-19 patients are very hard to ventilate, as many invasive ventilators as possible are needed to give the necessary support to keep them alive.

To upgrade the non-invasive ventilator machines and make them suitable to treat COVID-19 patients, Unit 81 added four notable features. The first is a highly sophisticated monitoring system to provide doctors with necessary information about oxygen, pressure, and flow, as well as an alert system that helps the medical staff care for several patients simultaneously. Another added feature filters the patient’s air to the room, which prevents the healthcare professionals from getting infected. The third feature merges invasive ventilation with high flow oxygen, which is a necessary part of the solution when dealing with complex COVID-19 cases. Lastly, a communication system was added to connect to the hospital’s information system and emergency monitors, so the hospital staff receives vital information about all the patients.

“This breakthrough has the capacity to create a global shift in the fight against coronavirus,” Maj. S said. That’s why Unit 81 and Sheba hospital believe in this.”

Creative, innovative solutions are always embraced by Sheba and Unit 81. During normal times, Unit 81 is committed to designing technology for special forces. But during this time of the coronavirus pandemic, its personnel have joined together with doctors to develop the new medical devices.

As expressed by Maj. S., “Our slogan is knowledge, willingness and devotion make the impossible possible. But in this case, it’s not just a slogan because 150 people worked on this project in the last four weeks, 24-7, together with dedicated doctors – showing us that the impossible is possible. We approached the problem as we approach every problem in our regular professional daily work. We break every problem into small pieces and try to solve each piece with very creative solutions.”

In the global fight against COVID-19, Dr. Amit Zabtani, who is heading the project at Sheba, added that Israeli authorities “will be more than happy to share our knowledge with other countries” about how to convert commonly used non-invasive ventilators into frontline machines against coronavirus. The central objective of Project Breath of Air is to ensure that no patients anywhere are left without ventilators due to a shortage.

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