By John Ramos

MORGAN HILL (CBS SF) — While COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to plunge in the San Francisco Bay Area, the pandemic continues to rage elsewhere in the world.

That’s where Morgan Hill Dentist Dr. Kusum Atraya and her group of dedicated volunteers are making their mark in the battle against the disease.

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Atraya treats sleep apnea patients so they don’t have to use a device called a CPAP machine which blows air into the nose to keep the airways open. With a little tinkering, those discarded machines can also be used as non-invasive ventilators for people with COVID-19.

“I knew most of my patients had those CPAP machines that they are not using,” she said, “So, I called my patients, collected some and slowly, in the community, we collected 20,000 of those.”

Atraya and her band of local volunteers sent ventilators to more than 20 impoverished nations last year and they’re not stopping now.

Her garage is once again filling up with about 500 CPAP machines and boxes of spare parts.

“With this, ventilators can be freed up for extremely critical patients,” she said. “People who are borderline, we can put them into these and it will be helpful.”

A Stanford doctor invented an accessory with an oxygen port, making the CPAC machines an oxygen delivery device as well. Many of the volunteers are Indian, but they began the effort long before India became the focus of the pandemic.

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India recently set a new record: 400,000 COVID-19 cases in one day with more than 3,700 people dying on Sunday alone.

“It’s affecting everybody,” said volunteer Vardeep Kaur. “Nobody has escaped this. So, whatever we can do to help … it’s humbling.”

On Tuesday, with financial help from Google, the group will ship off its next batch of machines to Indian field hospitals and medical clinics in the small villages.

Volunteer Vick Sahni just graduated from Cal and is putting his mechanical engineering training to work, fixing CPAP machines.

“These machines are going to be used for people just before they go critical,” he said. “And, if something that I did with my own hands prevented somebody from going into a critical situation, it’s very rewarding.”

And all those who donated machines are already sleeping easier … but for a whole different reason.

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For anyone who would like to donate CPAP equipment, the group has created a network of drop-off locations within Northern California. Information is available at www.indiacovidsos.org