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East Meadow teen uses 3D printer to help front-line workers

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For 13-year-old East Meadow resident Nicholas Cervo, a 3D printer isn’t just a toy or a hobby. The rising freshman at East Meadow High School saw a Facebook post about a boy in Canada who was making mask extenders, and decided to use his 3D printer to do the same in order to make the grueling shifts of front-line workers a little easier.

The extenders have notches that attach to the string of a mask so it can be secured at the back of the head rather than behind the ears, where chafing often occurs when a mask is worn for an extended period of time. After doing some research and testing different prototypes, Nicholas found the perfect piece to print.

“It took some trial and error, I’d say, but he got it,” said his mother, Kim Mancuso. It takes around two hours, Nicholas said, to print nine small extenders, seven medium ones or five large ones.

He emailed Nassau County Legislator Rose Walker (R-Hicksville) to ask for help in figuring out where to distribute his creations. Walker connected him with her neighbor, a nurse at Winthrop Hospital, in Mineola, who gave them out at the facility. Walker’s office posted Nicholas’s donation on Facebook, and several front-line workers were eager to try the extenders. “It really blew up from there,” Mancuso said.

“The health care workers have just been so, so thankful,” Walker said. “You wear the mask and it can be very annoying behind your ears when you can’t take it off for long period of time.” She said that Nicholas’s mask extenders have been “a tremendous help.”

He met Walker when his Boy Scout Troop 381, in Hicksville, visited the Hicksville Public Library last year, and he explained to her how his printer works. “It was so interesting to me,” Walker said. “I couldn’t believe that a printer could physically make something … [Nicholas] is really an amazing young man.”

He has donated over 1,600 extenders to date. Winthrop Hospital has received 300, and Nassau University Medical Center has received 250. He also made donations to Saint Francis, Mount Sinai South Nassau, Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, Cohen’s Children’s Hospital, North Shore University Hospital, the Brooklyn Veterans Administration Medical Center, the Hospital for Special Surgery, St. Catherine of Siena and Southside Hospital. He made additional donations to the East Meadow Post Office and the AHRC Foundation, as well as various doctors’ offices, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes.

The A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility in Uniondale, which was hit hard by Covid-19, received 185 extenders. One man even contacted Nicholas privately because his daughter wore hearing aids, and the mask irritated her ears.

Nicholas has family members in Florida and Arkansas who contacted him when they saw his Facebook posts. He has since donated extenders to them to distribute among their local health care facilities.

The fact that he is able to use something he enjoys to help others has made it even more fulfilling. “I’m really interested in the printers, architecture and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “Helping others really makes me feel good.”