Fashion designer creates high-end medical gowns for Edward-Elmhurst Health
The phone call was somewhat of a last resort, and the request was certainly unconventional. But Edward-Elmhurst Health CEO Mary Lou Mastro was growing desperate.
At the height of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in the spring, her hospital system -- like many others -- was running low on personal protective equipment, particularly medical isolation gowns. In search of alternate sources amid a global shortage, Mastro approached her supply chain system director, Matthew Hess, with a shot-in-the-dark idea: What if they asked a high-end fashion designer for help?
"Our responsibility is to make sure (our employees) have what they need. When we couldn't get the gowns, we were devastated," Mastro said. "I was just thinking, 'I've got to find someone.'"
Mastro's son had gone to school with Yuvraj Duggal, whose father, Mac Duggal, designs prom dresses, ballgowns and couture formalwear out of his Burr Ridge headquarters. She had never met Duggal before, and Hess was a little hesitant to reach out -- "It'd be like asking a master chef to make mac and cheese," he said -- but health system leaders figured they had nothing to lose.
Mastro called Duggal and explained their dire situation. She was blown away by the designer's response.
"This is an unusual request," she recalls him saying over the phone. "But I will do anything to help your doctors and nurses."
Without thinking twice, Duggal, his son and their team "dropped everything" and started creating a prototype, he said. They worked closely with Edward-Elmhurst infection control experts and health care workers to understand their needs regarding fit, functionality and safety.
The gowns had to be impermeable and durable. The thumb loops had to be sized just right, and the Velcro and tie placements were key. And because it would be a Mac Duggal design, he said, "we had to make sure it looks pretty."
"It took a lot of thought and a lot of research, and we had to do it all really, really quickly," Duggal said. "I'm not going to tell you it was easy, but it was worth the challenge."
After a few rounds of tests, adjustments and inspections, 400,000 light blue protective gowns inscribed with the "Mac Duggal" logo were purchased by Edward-Elmhurst Health, imported from China and delivered to the Naperville and Elmhurst hospitals from July 31 to Aug. 3, officials said.
The breathable, high-quality disposable gowns received high praise from employees and are still being used along with equipment from other sources, Hess said.
Though the hospital system is monitoring its inventory closely, leaders are confident they'll be able to maintain adequate supplies moving forward, he said, and they wouldn't hesitate to seek help again from Duggal if they run into trouble.
"We're in a really good spot. We've been able to build great relationships," Hess said. "If there are any hiccups in the supply chain, I've got people I can pick up the phone and call now. Mac is a great example of that."
Duggal said his company is ready and willing to step in whenever needed. Though not as elegant as his usual designs, he says, he believes the protective gowns are some of his best and most important work.
"I really feel humbled and privileged to get this opportunity to serve the nation during these tough times," Duggal said. "So many people in this industry are putting their own lives at risk. We had to step up and be of service to our medical heroes."