A son of two emergency room physicians on the pandemic’s front lines, Kaya Suner also heeded the call to help. In just a few short weeks, his efforts are bringing isolated patients and their families together for the last time.
The 19-year-old teenager created Covid Connectors, an online portal that accepts iPad and iPhone donations for COVID-19 patients in isolation. Equipped with Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Skype, the devices are distributed across Rhode Island hospitals. So far, 650 devices have been donated.
“It started when I called my mom and I said ‘You know, I want to help, like I want to make masks,’” Sunder, a transfer student at Emerson College said. “She said the real need in hospitals right now is for Apple devices for families to call their loved ones, because there is a visitation ban right now, so families can’t see their loved ones if they’re dying.”
After seeing his parents regularly dressed up head to toe in personal protective equipment, Suner internalized his mom’s words and reached out to his Facebook friends to see if they would be interested in donating to that specific cause.
After positive feedback from the post, Suner spurred into action and reached out to a family friend to get the Rhode Island Medical Society, a trade association, to distribute the equipment. He also reached out to a close friend to help build the Covid Connector’s website.
In less than a week, the organization was collecting equipment. Sunder, who had transferred into the college as a spring admittance, took a leave of absence two months after starting. He wanted to focus on Covid Connectors.
“From the date I posted on Facebook just looking for devices, which was the day my mom called me, to the day we went live with our website, I’d say it was about six days,” Suner said. “It was pretty quick.”
‘All week we met our donation goal’
It wasn’t long before Suner’s success had reached the Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, who gave a shout out during a recent press conference. Amazon soon followed with promises to donate Fire tablets.
“Amazon had seen one of our media stories and they reached out to donate 540 devices,” Suner said. “All week we met our donation goal.”
Earlier this week, the website couldn’t receive any more donations because of the overwhelming response. Since then, it is accepting donations again, with two more hospitals on board.
“We’re going to have two options soon on our website where visitors can select to donate the devices to Brigham Health and then in New Hampshire, Catholic Medical Center,” Suner said. “[The hospital staff] will configure those iPads with the necessary software and distribute them.”
‘He found a way to contribute’
Suner’s parents, who have been treating coronavirus patients, acknowledge that while their son didn’t want to follow in their footsteps of becoming a doctor, he’s found his own unique role as a leader.
“Since he was little, we knew he didn’t want to be a doctor like us, but he found a way to contribute to this pandemic in his own way,” said his father, Dr. Selim Suner. “Social media and communication skills both on phones and tablets aren’t widely used in the hospitals.”
As for the longevity of the organization, Suner’s focus is on the present. He’s thankful for the donations he’s received from across the country.
“Obviously the end goal is for COVID to come to an end or slow down, but we aren’t in control of that obviously,” Suner said. “So, as long as COVID is around and this is an issue, we want to be getting devices in.”