During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, when personal protective equipment (PPE) was scarce and in order to curtail the spread of the virus, patient interaction with medical care providers and visitation by family and loved ones was extremely limited at facilities. Many of the sick did not see an unmasked person or sunlight for weeks. To compound this trauma, patients invariably had to make difficult decisions about life support while surviving this disaster all on their own. It was during these difficult times, that a dynamic duo of friends came up with the idea of donating iPads to hospitals in order to allow isolated COVID-19 patients to virtually visit medical staff, family, and friends.

Sherin Merchant and Nausheen Rajan, best friends for over 15 years, grew up attending the same Jamatkhana in Orlando, Florida. As frontline workers, when they witnessed first-hand the tremendous psychological toll that their patients with COVID-19 endured while in the hospital, they decided to intervene. Nausheen recalls, “Sherin had just moved from New York to Georgia, and had a doctor friend who had seen the horrors of being a COVID-19 patient at an NYC-based hospital at the peak of the pandemic. She reached out to me with a simple ask, ‘Are you able to donate any iPads that you are not using?’ and that is really how it all began.”

In early April, the two friends started a fundraising campaign with the goal of donating iPads to COVID-19 treatment facilities, to better equip patient rooms for virtual communication with care providers and loved ones. The idea was to conserve the limited PPE stock that many hospitals were left with at the time, while providing patients with a way to communicate with their doctors and “visit” with their family. They set the goal to purchase as many iPads as they could raise money for, along with water-proof iPad cases and water-proof Bluetooth speakers, so that the iPads could be disinfected between patients to avoid cross-contamination. As Sherin explains, “Bluetooth speakers will allow our patients, many of whom are hard of hearing, to hear loved ones on FaceTime over the constant disruptive noises of machines and IVs in the hospital.”

To promote the campaign, Nausheen and Sherin held a free, virtual, 60-minute yoga session led by a friend, who generously agreed to donate time for this humanitarian cause. The theme of the yoga session was ‘compassion,’ and 25 people participated in the event. What they experienced in the next phase through the fundraising campaign is beyond commendable. All of their friends joined them in this initiative by spreading the word far and wide, and before they knew it, hordes of individual and corporate donors came knocking on their doors. Within a short span of time, they surpassed their initial goal of raising $5,000 with the help of 54 community donors. Several corporations including Apple, Amazon, and Google, donated large quantities of iPads and Fire HD tablets. Apple alone donated 200+ iPads to their campaign.

Reflecting on all those that participated, Nausheen recounts, “We were blown away by the generosity of the community at large. This was a three-week effort, which exceeded our expectations in every way—whether it be the doctor in NY we were liaising with, the yoga instructor who immediately jumped on board to teach a class for free, the friends who helped us market the fundraiser, or the positive encouragement we felt from everyone, even if it was virtual.”

With the donations, the pair purchased 50 iPads with built-in water-resistant screen protectors and 5 waterproof, portable Bluetooth speakers for patients that required assistance in hearing, which they distributed between two hospitals in the New York City area. Being immensely grateful for this gift, the physicians and nurses at those facilities were able to place an iPad in the rooms of many COVID-19 and other critically ill patients for the duration of their hospital stay and reduce potential exposure and use of personal protective equipment going in and out of the room.

Currently, unfortunately, there are many patients who are still combating COVID-19 at these facilities, and hence it is anticipated that the donated devices will remain at the hospitals for an extended period of time. Sherin and Nausheen regularly liaise with medical professionals at these facilities who will make the determination to pass on the iPads to other community-based hospitals as needed. Their long-term plan is to have the devices repurposed to public schools in the New York City area.

An essential theme of their campaign is the importance of mental health which is often overlooked at the time of such crises. Their message to the community is, “Stay hopeful, even when there is uncertainty. Small acts of kindness made our initiative possible and anyone, literally anyone, can tap into their networks and their community to make a difference because there will be people right there along the way to lift you up.”