Nurse chips in from home

Courtesy photoMary Keller, a nurse at Beverly Hospital, sews handmade protective masks in her home in Peabody.

PEABODY — As a nurse for 20 years, Mary Keller wishes she could be on the front lines with her colleagues on the maternity ward at Beverly Hospital. Instead, she's home in Peabody after undergoing ankle surgery.

But Keller is not sitting by idly in these times of trouble.

Keller has come up with the idea of making homemade masks using vacuum cleaner bags to protect nurses from the coronavirus. She has ordered 30 bags and has reached out to her church group for help in making the masks.

"I'm sitting here feeling pretty helpless," Keller said on Tuesday. "This makes me feel a little bit better."

Keller said she came up with the idea after talking to her fellow nurses about the lack of protective masks, a problem that has plagued the entire medical community since the virus outbreak.

She read a study by Cambridge University in England that tested a variety of materials in homemade masks and found that the material from vacuum cleaner bags was nearly as effective as a regular surgical mask in blocking viruses.

Keller said she won't know if the vacuum bag material will make it too difficult to breathe until she tests it, so in the meantime she's making masks with two layers of 100% cotton material.

Karen Blumsack, a seamstress from Amesbury, has volunteered to help with the project. The North Shore Players, a community theater group, has donated a sewing machine to the cause.

Keller is hoping to make enough masks for the 75 full-time nurses in her unit at Beverly Hospital. She said she does not fault the hospital for the shortage of protective masks.

"They're doing their best to get the supplies to us," she said. "But it's just not fair. It's a really difficult situation."

Kyle Reilly, a spokesperson for Beverly and Addison Gilbert Hospitals, said the hospitals, like other health care organizations, are experiencing a shortage of medical equipment and supplies. She said Beth Israel Lahey Health, the hospitals' parent organization, has implemented "robust supply conservation efforts" and is doing everything it can to obtain additional resources.

"Many generous individuals and groups have donated or offered to donate resources and supplies to help protect our health care workers, and we are tremendously grateful for the outpouring of support," Reilly said.

Reilly said it is "critically important that we protect our staff on the front lines."

A list of items the organization is able to accept and information about donation opportunities is available at

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535 or

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