Brothers help in fight against COVID-19
Little did brothers Mike and Conrad Lindberg know when they were growing up in the 1960s and 70s the time they spent in the garage in Blue Earth building things with their late father, Peter, would lead them to where they are today, immersed in the fight against a silent killer, COVID-19.
The coronavirus pandemic has not only led to wide-spread health problems, it has also shaken the U.S. economy to the core. Many businesses are currently closed because of the pandemic.
A need for more respirators for those who are seriously ill from the virus and a test which can more quickly identify who is or is not infected, are two of the items experts in the health field have been asking for.
And it is where Mike, a 1974 Blue Earth graduate and his brother, Conrad, who graduated from Blue Earth in 1978, are joining the fight against the pandemic.
They are the sons of Peter and Maria and have two sisters, Lisa and Sara and another brother, Hans.
Mike, who has both a BS and a MS degree in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota, works for a company called Respironics in southern California, where he is the senior staff electrical engineer.
His biography states he worked in Aerospace designing power equipment for the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station and geostationary communications satellites. In commercial industries he designed power magnetics for computers and for satellite/Internet communications equipment. Mike holds numerous patents and has served as vice president of engineering for two previous companies.
“Respironics is a division of the Philips Company,” Mike explains. “We have a big and growing presence in the health care field.”
One of the products Mike has had an integral part in designing is a new respirator, the model VX850.
“It has been in development for six years. I designed the electrical system for it,” Mike says. “We are just beginning production of the new model, which is a sophisticated computer controlled unit.”
It was just a couple of weeks ago New York governor Andrew Cuomo said his state could be short 36,000 ventilators.
“A certain percentage of COVID-19 patients require intensive ventilation and are so sick they need to be hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU),” Mike comments. “We are ramping up production to produce four times as many of the new ventilators as we had originally planned. And that is in addition to also increasing the production of our previous model, the V60.”
These are not simple machines anybody can make, according to Mike.
“They are not something you slap together,” Mike states. “They can be dangerous if they are misapplied or if they fail.”
Mike gives a brief description of the new ventilator.
“The new model uses a graphic controller interface and has multiple computer systems,” Mike shares. “It is portable, has a battery back-up and can monitor many of the patient’s vital statistics, thus freeing up the nurses for other duties.
“You can input information such as the patient’s age, weight and breathing capacity among other things into the computer. The machine can measure the amount of exhaled carbon dioxide and is capable of mixing a prescribed amount of oxygen for the patient to breath in. It can serve a broad range of patients and do a better job of monitoring them.”
While his older brother got his degrees in engineering, Conrad took a more unconventional path to get to where he is today, the principal engineer for Mesa Biotech.
“I actually went to St. Olaf and earned a degree in music education,” Conrad comments. “I never really took many science classes.”
But he never became a classroom teacher.
“Music jobs were few and far between when I graduated from college in 1982,” Conrad says. “So I got a job with Minnesota Public Radio doing some off-site reading and studio work.”
He eventually moved to California and began working with his brother Mike on a solar power project.
“I have worked for a number of companies and been involved with many designs,” Conrad explains. “Those include computer power supplies and battery backups for computers.”
But the list does not stop there.
“I was also in on the design for a way to remove ice from aircraft called an electro-expulsive de-icing system,” he says. “I also did consultant work for H-Wave, which is a multi-function electrical stimulation device. I have also worked on motor controls for high-end race cars.”
It also led to Conrad getting his name on a number of patents.
“Having your name on patents will open some doors for you.” he says. “Dad taught German in school but I think he was a closet engineer and maybe that is where I got it from.”
Conrad is part of a team responsible for developing a test for COVID-19 which can give rapid results.
“It is an on-site test which can give you results in 30 minutes,” Conrad shares. “And it is extremely accurate.”
Because of the public health emergency, Conrad says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization, which cuts through some red tape so products may be brought to market faster.
“It is amazing how fast they (FDA) can move when they are motivated,” he adds.
The test is a very simple procedure.
“You take a throat or nasal swab. Then you swirl the swab in a vial of solution, place a sample of the solution in a cassette which is loaded into a docking station and await the results,” Conrad explains. “The docking station uses disposable cassettes depending on what you are testing for, whether it is influenza or now, COVID-19.”
The speedy results are not the only advantage of this on-site testing, according to Conrad.
“By being able to do this test on-site, you reduce the potential exposure to other people,” Conrad explains. “It does not have to be sent to a lab so you do not expose delivery people as well as those working in a lab. It is also much cheaper than any other test.”
With the ongoing pandemic, the Lindbergs share both their companies have people putting in long hours.
“Everyone is working late,” Conrad says. “It is all hands on deck; but it feels good to be designing something which will help people.”
Mike reminds people there are a lot of bright individuals working on these problems.
“Under the circumstances I feel very privileged to be able to contribute,” Mike shares. “But we are not doing remotely as much as those incredible first responders in the ICUs. But it feels good to be able to get them what they need.”