Personal struggle means thousands of masks for health workers

Shawn Laser has two immunocompromised children: Luana, who’s three years old, and Levi, who’s two. He lost his 87-year-old grandfather, Larry Laser, to COVID-19 back in April. His grandmother is recovering from the disease.

Both upset and concerned about the pandemic, he quit his day job this past May 14 and started a business with his wife, Andrea, to aid health workers battling at the frontlines of COVID-19. 

So far, with help from Global Empowerment Mission, a nonprofit, his organization, “Spread Love, Not COVID,” he has distributed about 2000 surgical masks and 4000 n95 masks to extended care centers working with medically fragile kids.

“We want to make sure that as few people as possible suffer the losses we did,” said Laser. “And we know that the face masks, giving them to any health worker, is part of the mission. And anyone on the frontlines of COVID are the people we’re trying to serve.”

Laser grew up in Maryland. He met his wife, Andrea, who was raised in Florida, at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, where they volunteered with special needs children. 

They’ve lived a life of service, and even got engaged on a mission trip to Colombia six years ago. They had their own special needs children two years after that.

The Lasers have three kids. Luana and Levi both suffer from the glycogen storage disease type 1B, a rare genetic condition in which the body is unable to break down glycogen, a complex sugar. As a result, they have to nurse at night.

“Our two night nurses are amazing, and we couldn’t do what we do or be the parents that we are without them,” said Andrea Laser.

A third child, Lyla, who’s only one year old, doesn’t show any signs of the disease.

At the start of the crisis, they lost their nurses for two weeks. That translated into sleepless nights. The nurses didn’t have the appropriate safety gear, and one of them was working at a retirement facility with an outbreak in cases.

So they gave the nurses their N95 masks. 

Larry Laser’s nursing home went through something similar. At the time, the unit where he stayed included about 20 patients suspected of or known to have COVID-19. A few nurses had surgical masks. Others had to wear homemade masks.

“If you’re dealing with medically compromised people, that’s not sufficient,” said Laser. “It’s not enough protection. My grandfather was put at unnecessary risk. A face mask could’ve played a role in his story.”

The idea for the business came two days after they received their government stimulus check.

“I kind of felt guilty about that check, because we were employed at that time and didn’t really need the money,” said Laser. “So we spent it on buying some products and getting this thing moving.

Myrna Miott, director of marketing and development for Broward Children’s Center, received some of the masks. She said that at their facilities, they use about 1,000 per week, making it challenging to keep their staff and kids protected.

“Receiving a donation like this is so appreciated and very much needed,” she said. “Many of our kids are on respirators, so they can’t breathe on their own. Very few of them even eat by mouth. So they are medically complex and we take care of them.”

The Laser’s business; Spread Love, Not Covid; started selling car air fresheners online. They are shaped like facemasks and each sale generates enough profit to purchase one mask. The masks are then donated to health workers.

“We want to inspire hope, and we want to help people by giving out masks, and by making your car smell nice and fresh,” said Andrea Laser.

Editor’s Note: Some of the video was provided by Shawn Laser and shot by videographer Josh Little.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated where Shawn Laser was born.

Nicole Forero, originally from Cali, Colombia, currently majors in journalism with a minor in Social Media & E-Marketing Analytics. She’s interested in photojournalism and aspires to become a feature writer.