George Glass hadn't held hands with his wife of 61 years in months due to coronavirus lockdown. That is, until his daughter got to work solving the problem.
Jan Glass has dementia and lives at the Hope Center Memory Care facility in Fayetteville, Georgia, but George made sure to visit her almost every day.
The couple has been separated since the building went into lockdown in March, due to COVID-19 concerns.
"It was heart-wrenching to see her behind the glass crying," their daughter, Cindy Shinabarger, told "Good Morning America."
The family tried Skype calls and window visits, but Jan's state made it difficult to understand why she couldn't touch her family. In many cases of memory loss diseases, such as dementia, physical touch can be an important gateway for communication with other people.
The family went from being daily visitors to not being able to visit Jan at all.
"I couldn't handle my dad not seeing my mom again," Shinabarger said. So she set out to find a solution that would allow her parents to be reunited without putting anyone at risk.
Shinabarger, who has a background in physics, came up with the "Safe Hug Window" in her home workshop. The concept allows for people to "reach through" a prototype window and touch the other person, using special sleeves and disposable gloves, on the other side of the pane without fear of contamination.
Shinabarger created the window material using a special kind of acrylic that was 10 times stronger than glass, and also lighter, making for easy installation. It also includes a HEPA filter to allow George to speak to Jan without the need of a phone. She added that her top her priority was to make it "100% safe" and much of the material can be found in medical centers and neonatal intensive care units.
The family brought the safe-window prototype over to the executive director of the Hope Center, Kathy Rainwater-Roe, who was surprised and amazed by the invention.
"When [Shinabarger] pulled it out and showed it to me, I was immediately like, 'We're doing it. ... Let's put it in.' I wanted to see it in action," Rainwater-Roe said.
Jan immediately lit up as she recognized George through the glass and told the staff, "Oh, that's my husband!"
Emotions were high and smiles were wide when George slipped his hands through the glass and embraced his wife.
"We were all in tears because my dad is holding my mom's hand for the first time in months," said Shinabarger.
Family members of other residents have also been able to use the window to visit their loved ones again. People have reached out to Shinabarger to thank them for her invention. "We were so happy and to get to reach out and hold [our dad's] hand," one testimonial wrote. "We all sat there crying tears of joy."
The Hope Center told the family they would pay for all the materials for the "Safe Hug Window," and are working at installing more at other Phoenix Senior Living facilities.
"To see that families could once again embrace, but we were still keeping our entire community safe, that was a win-win for everybody," Rainwater-Roe said.
"It almost makes COVID bearable," she added.
Shinabarger has filed a provisional patent on her safe hug windows and is brainstorming other ways to use her invention to help others beyond nursing homes and potentially share the benefits with more of the at-risk community.
Although lockdown is still in effect at nursing homes across the nation, the Glass family has resumed their daily visits and can recreate some of their favorite traditions again, like George feeding Jan chocolates.
No matter what happens, Shinabarger assures that now "my dad will be there every day, feeding her and holding her hand."