Myra Bhathena ’22 Collects Used Devices for Isolated COVID-19 Patients

“Spreading love, not the virus” reads the homepage of Connect Against COVID, an effort started by Myra Bhathena ’22 to provide used electronic devices to COVID-19 patients in isolation. Bhathena donates these devices, preferably iPads, to Tufts Medical Center and other Greater Boston hospitals, according to WCVB.

“The biggest issue with COVID-19 patients other than the physical toll the virus is taking on them is the emotional piece. Patients are isolated in their own rooms, for obvious health reasons, and they aren’t allowed any visitors and they only get seen by doctors or nurses a few times a day to prevent [Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E.)] waste. So, if they don’t have a device with them, they actually suffer from immense isolation and loneliness,” said Bhathena.

Bhathena continued, “What really struck me as an important image is a grandparent who is on a ventilator who knows that things aren’t going too well and just needs their family’s support. And I wanted to help with that, because that is such a vivid image for me, especially because I have two grandparents that I FaceTime every night.”

According to Bhathena, she was inspired when her mother, a doctor at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Peabody, Mass., forwarded her an email asking for available iPads for COVID-19 patients. Bhathena then created a website and secured a slot to promote her initiative on WCVB Channel 5 with the help of Lani Silversides, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science.

“I just thought there’s so many of us who are just sitting at home, wondering how we can help. So, I decided to learn how to create a website… and then just started spreading it to people I knew. I spread it on social media, and my mom spread it to a lot of her work friends throughout her office, and so did my dad. And then my hurdling coach got us a connection with a news reporter from WCVB Channel 5. Once we got that story on TV, it really took off, and we got a lot of responses and a lot of incoming devices,” said Bhathena.

According to the Connect Against COVID website, participants can drop off their devices at Staples in North Andover, ship them to Bhathena, or ask Bhathena to pick them up if they live in the Greater Boston area. The website also explains how to remove any personal data from the device. According to Bhathena, Connect Against COVID donated 40 devices to a local hospital this past weekend.

“On Saturday, we went to our post office box, like we do a couple of times throughout the week to see how many people have mailed [devices] in. And we had to take two large buckets to fill it all up in our car, and I drove to a few houses in the area to pick up some others. Still on Saturday, we cleaned all the devices, erased all the data, and took inventory. Then on Sunday, we dropped them off with a hospital administrator who had a connection with my mom, and we gave her about 40 devices,” said Bhathena.

Looking towards the future, Bhathena hopes that Connect Against COVID will gain more publicity after her interview with “The Eagle Tribune.” Additionally, Bhathena is attempting to expand the effort and donate to nursing homes and people in elderly care due to hospital restrictions on devices.

“We’ve been getting a lot of mixed devices. Hospitals right now are only taking iPads that are relatively new and in good condition with FaceTime-enabled cameras. But we’ve been getting a lot of other devices such as Samsung phones and older iPads, older iPhones. And we’re trying to see if we can get that to nursing homes or people in elderly care because that’s a big issue with the coronavirus too,” said Bhathena.

According to Anushka Bhat ’22, Bhathena has called attention to a cause that some might overlook. Bhat believes that Connect Against COVID is making a positive impact in the Greater Boston community.

“Because of [Bhathena] and her mom’s efforts, so many patients are able to find some joy in their unfortunate circumstances. The community is really benefiting from this project: not only the patients and their families, but it also gives others who are not personally affected a method of helping the people around them,” wrote Bhat in an email to The Phillipian.

Bhathena encouraged Andover students to help their communities in any way they can, even if it is a small act.

“Honestly, anything helps right now. Even if it’s a small deed, like going to a shelter to drop off some food or helping your neighbor get groceries if they feel unsafe going out. I think if we try to start just doing these acts of kindness in our own communities, we can really band together, safely of course,” said Bhathena.