News & Events

East Catholic High School Freshman Finds His Own Way to Help Fight Coronavirus

MANCHESTER, CT, April 29, 2020 - A Glastonbury teenager is doing his part to protect healthcare workers by printing protective facemasks in his basement. Fifteen-year-old Jonah Hornak, a member of East Catholic High School’s robotics team, has been using the team’s 3D printer to produce protective face masks and face mask buckles for the healthcare workers at Hartford Hospital. 

“I heard about Dr. Chris Wiles, who designed and is printing a new kind of protective masks in a friend’s garage. He was offering the files to anyone who wanted to make them,” says Hornak. “When our robotics team’s mentor, Barry Curcio, asked if anyone wanted to take the 3D printer home, it clicked. I felt like I could be helpful. If this was a way to do it, I wanted to help.” 

Dr. Wiles is a first-year anesthesiology resident at Hartford and St. Francis Hospitals and UConn Health. He designed a mask that’s an alternative to the N95 masks that healthcare workers use. He’s been using his own 3D printer to produce them. The masks can be backups to N95s should a healthcare facility need them.

Each mask takes about five hours to print, including the respirator and mouthpiece. So far, Jonah has printed 40 of them, sometimes assisted by his younger brother, Eli. They even keep the printer going throughout the night. When they are done, Jonah seals them in Ziploc bags and gets them to Dr. Wiles, who passes them along as backup masks should the healthcare professionals at Hartford Hospital need them.  

Jonah was introduced to the capabilities of 3D printers as a member of East Catholic’s robotics club, Aetos Dios. They’ve been using their 3D printer to make small parts for their robots. The team participates in the FIRST robotics competition, an international high school robotics program that gives students real-world engineering experience. Normally, they would be preparing for competitions and demonstrations of the wonders of robots now. With the stay-at-home order in place, all that has stopped.

Jonah is a programming student on the East Catholic robotics team. “Jonah’s a freshman, so he was new to the team this year, but he’s really stepped up for this project,” says Curcio. Barry and his wife, Heather, who are mentors for the team, bought a second printer to work on the project in their own home and the team approached the manufacturer about purchasing a third. “When they heard what we are doing with them, they offered to sell us the third printer at a substantial discount,” he says.

Jonah has been making the masks for a month and just got an updated SD card from Dr. Wiles to improve the process. How long does he expect to keep doing it? “I’ll keep doing this until it’s over,” he says. “As long as it takes. I just want to help.”

About East Catholic High School

East Catholic High School is a regional college-preparatory school of the Archdiocese of Hartford in Manchester, CT. Students come from more than 35 towns in the Greater Hartford area and eastern Connecticut. East Catholic is a place where students discover who they are meant to be. The school has been awarded the Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education and is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and the state of Connecticut. East Catholic students are challenged to build their own strong moral character while pursuing academic excellence, responsible citizenship, active participation in community service, sportsmanship, and an appreciation for the fine arts. An overwhelming number of East Catholic students (97 percent) go on to attend four and two year colleges. For more information, please visit the ECHS website.