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Students create way to help girl who was struck by a lightning eat by herself

Shared by Ana Duarte on 2017-09-13 12:43

About the solution

The students had two approaches to solve this problem: Emily bought a $300 robot arm, which she would reprogram so that Katelyn could control it with a joystick. Michael chose a more mechanical approach, working with PVC pipes and joints because he thought that would feel more natural and independent, to extend Katelyn’s reach. They ended up by choosing the approach created by Michael.

The students are part of a program called SERO (Student Engineers Reaching Out). SERO grew out of a national service-learning design program in which teams of students partner with local service organizations to address human and community needs. The project with Katelyn began because her occupational therapist from Memorial Neurological Outpatient Therapy, Heather Beaver, heard about SERO and contacted them, asking for help.

Katelyn was riding a paddleboat with her stepbrother, in 2006, when a storm whipped out of nowhere and unleashed a lightning bolt that struck her.

She suffered severe burns, and was airlifted to two different hospitals. Katelyn stayed in a coma-like state for months, and her brain was severely shocked. The doctors told her mother, Julie Noblitt, that her daughter would never walk or talk again. The traumatic brain injury was permanent, and her short-term memory was affected, as was physical movement. Ten years later, Katelyn has control of her arms when held close to her torso, but when she extends them, ongoing nerve damage causes tremors that make controlling a fork or spoon nearly impossible.

“When we eat out at a restaurant, I’ve seen her turn away from the other people there so they can’t see her being fed and eating. It breaks my heart. This project is about self-esteem, giving her the control to eat on her own”, Julie explained.

The team than met with the patient to try the latest refinements of the PVC pipe system, which ended up being the most adequate solution. Michael clamped the device to the table while Emily helped Katelyn attach a Velcro strap to secure her right arm into the handle portion.

Emily brought brownie balls and fresh fruit so that Katelyn could try and eat by herself using her new gadget.

She pushed down to stab a piece of fruit, and the new spring pushed the fork back up while she manipulated the joints to twist the fork toward her mouth. Using both arms, she found better control.

The process would take some practice, but it got an immediate thumbs up from Katelyn. Next, she stabbed a blackberry and maneuvered the fork to pop it into her mouth.

Michael explained that he would make a few more changes based on the latest results and give the device to Katelyn to practice during the summer. She could give feedback to the SERO group that will work to improve it next year. 

Katelyn leaned over her iPad and typed a message: “Like it. I’m so very happy.”

More info: http://bit.ly/2jngzca

Adapted from: http://ntrda.me/2wYZokk
https://youtu.be/tuAETFgNMPk

This solution shall not include mention to the use of drugs, chemicals or biologicals (including food); invasive devices; offensive, commercial or inherently dangerous content. This solution was not medically validated. Proceed with caution! If you have any doubts, please consult with a health professional.

About the author

Emily Cunningham and Michael Boyle are engineering students from Notre Dame University, who created, in 2016, a tool to help Katelyn Tooth, who was struck by a lightning, when she was 12 years old, feed herself.

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