WEST NEWBURY – Pediatrician Dave Danis’ said his “knees weakened and he was brought to tears” when he discovered 700-800 N95 masks, made by 3M, in his barn over the weekend.

Like everyone on the front lines of medicine, Danis, who is chairman of pediatrics at Beverly Hospital, plies his trade in fear of catching the coronavirus as precious supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) dwindle.

As Danis tells it, when the call went out for donations of PPEs, his neighbor Pam Bracci, an artist, remembered she had rescued the masks, which were probably headed for the dumpster. A 3M sales person had pitched her and other artists on the idea that they should don masks to avoid the harmful effects from the materials they used. She regularly wears an N95 mask because she works with dyes in making wearable art clothing under the name Enzo Fine Adornments.

About five years ago, the 3M distributor, knowing Bracci wore the masks, approached her and asked if she’d wanted them.

“He was knocking on doors because he didn’t have room for them. When I moved out of my studio in Lawrence, I kept them. I might throw away my clothes, but I do not throw away my art supplies,” she said. She has stored them in her studio and home in the converted church at 806 Main St., West Newbury. Danis and his family live next door at 810 Main St.

She called Danis and asked if he’d like the masks, but was floored when she discovered how many there were. Danis instructed her to leave them in his barn. “I thought we might have a case and wanted to see if David needed them. We came up with 11 cases. I almost had a heart attack. We (she and her husband) started jumping up and down.”

A small irony is that Bracci had been regularly buying N95 masks at Home Depot for daily use.

A stunned Danis was more than a little grateful.

“I am now calling her the 'Angel from the Church.' Many of my colleagues are much safer in our war against this invisible enemy. Dare I say, her masks may somewhere along the way save a North Shore health care worker’s life,” he said.

He noted that many area doctors and nurses are between age 50 and 65, which puts them in the “at risk” demographic for the coronavirus. He added that he and many colleagues are largely working for free given the challenge of maintaining office staffs and hours.

He speculates that the gift arose out of a neighborly conversation he had with Bracci about the hazards of taking care of patients with confirmed and suspected cases of the coronavirus. Since the outbreak, numerous infants with coronavirus-like symptoms have coughed or vomited on him.

“I am wearing a mask, but that doesn’t cover everything. There’s a sense of pure terror in the medical community. That’s the environment right now,” he said.

His first call was to colleague and West Newbury resident Dr. Nancy Weinschenk, a neonatologist. He invited her to his barn and gave her 200 masks. “It felt like a drug deal,” joked Danis.

Another 200-300 went to Beverly Hospital’s ER department where, according to Danis, masks had recently been stolen. Danis said the ER doctor in charge almost broke down and told him Bracci was an “angel sent from God.”

Another 50 each went to two other pediatric practices and he kept 100 for his own practice, North Shore Pediatrics, PC. A small number had been visited by mice, but will be sterilized and used.

In a neighborhood chat group on Tuesday, Danis urged everyone to “ring a bell tonight for Pam Bracci,” who humbly confided it never occurred to her not to give the masks.

John Dodge is a retired newsman whose work has been published by PC Week/eWeek, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal and various Essex County newspapers. He lives in West Newbury and blogs at  dodgeretort.com

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