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Mobilizing Alumni to Protect Health Workers

Outreach to alumni in China nets critical resources for Northwestern Medicine. 

PPE donation
Chicago-area alumni and volunteers, from left, Lena Zhao ’15 MS, Lucy Cheng and Desmond Wang, delivered PPE donations to Northwestern Memorial Hospital on April 6.

By Sean Hargadon
April 14, 2020
Online Exclusives

“Health workers in Chicago are not only our first line of defense — they’re also our last,” says Desmond Wang ’10, ’12 MS, who mobilized Northwestern alumni in China to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

After reading a Feinberg School of Medicine blog post about the desperate need for personal protective equipment (PPE), Wang reached out to alumni affiliated with the NU Club of Beijing to launch a fundraiser. In less than two weeks, Wang led an international effort that resulted in the donation of more than 5,500 N95 masks and two iPads to Northwestern Memorial Hospital — and a contribution of nearly $14,000 to Northwestern Medicine’s COVID-19 Relief Fund to give the hospital flexibility as its needs evolve. The group also delivered PPE to doctors in New York City.

Wang and his collaborators in Beijing leveraged the Northwestern alumni network in China, including those with connections to the manufacturers and suppliers of PPE. Network resources also helped expedite shipping; supplies were delivered to Chicago in under five days rather than the usual 10 or more.

“I have a lot of memories at Northwestern,” says Wang, who came to the United States in 2006 to study industrial engineering. “My values were forged there. And it’s not just me — a lot of donors, even though they eventually went back to China, they have deep feelings for Northwestern and Chicagoland.

“Being Chinese, I’m very aware of the difficulties the health care system in China faced [because of the coronavirus],” adds Wang, who is from Shanghai. “And I can imagine, with the numbers growing so rapidly in the United States, that the American health care system is under the same stress. It’s very important to help those health workers.”

Wang, who lives in Chicago and works as a quantitative investment professional at Citadel, is part of a second fundraising effort that aims to provide PPE to smaller Chicago-area hospitals, medical centers and clinics.

Through the fundraising efforts, “I have realized the value of self-empowerment,” Wang says. “Although I know that the big hospitals have good procurement processes, the supply chain is overloaded and inefficient. If we can mobilize the public to help from a different angle, it can better solve the needs at the front line. I hope this message can get more people to donate to the health workers around us.”

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