Schreiber Pediatric Center - Engineering progress for Teddy

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April 8, 2016

Engineering progress for Teddy

Posted by Dan  Permalink 

Three engineering students from Elizabethtown College, all seniors, waited and watched as Schreiber therapists Megan Campbell Roland and Alissa Popalis wrestled 3-year-old Teddy Rhoades into what looked like a life vest.

It was no ordinary vest, though.

Schreiber therapists Megan Campbell Roland, left, and Alissa Popalis, help Teddy Rhoades, 3, balance as he sits up straight during the first test of a vibrating vest. Teddy's mother Jaclyn looks on.

Inside the vest, the three students had built a small vibrating motor. They had spent more than a year researching and doing early work on the design, and they came to Schreiber April 5 for the first test.

Brain damage

at 3 months

The whole process started in December 2014, when Teddy's mom, Jaclyn Rhoades, had submitted a proposal to Elizabethtown's Engineering Department asking if students there could design a vibrating device to improve Teddy's muscle tone.

The three students -- Jake Evans, David Good and Buck Kauffman -- were intrigued enough to take on the project. They met with Jaclyn to find out what problems the therapists had and what they could do to help them. They found that creating a hands-free vibration device would make therapy easier for everyone involved.

Teddy suffers from hypoxic brain injury, brain damage from lack of oxygen. His mom found him face down in his crib when he was 3 months old, blue and not breathing. She revived him, but the damage left him with cerebral palsy, which affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance.

Three students from Elizabethtown College's Engineering Department bring a prototype of a vibrating vest to test on Teddy Rhoades.

Teddy spends most of his time in a wheelchair stroller, and he lacks the strength to straighten his spine or keep his head up for long. So he slumps, and his head tends to flop forward.

Megan has had success working with a hand-held vibrating device during home visits to Teddy. The vibrations stimulate the muscles to activate spine and trunk erection. The students observed one of these visits and saw what a struggle it was to hold Teddy and use the device. They thought a vibrating vest might free up their hands and make the session easier and more productive.

They started working on the design in January 2015 and began prototyping this past January. They bought a child's life jacket, tore out the inflatable material and built the motor, powered by two AA batteries. The installed motor could be moved to different areas of the vest, depending on which area of Teddy's back was the target for the vibrating.

Total cost of the materials: $50.

Buck Kauffman, David Good and Jake Evans, seniors at Elizabethtown, pose with Teddy Rhoades and Megan Campbell Roland. The engineering students designed and made a vibrating vest to help Teddy improve his muscle tone.

A successful test

On the day of the test, David, Buck and Jake stood behind Mom as Megan and Alissa snapped on the vest and flipped the switch.

Nothing happened. The vibrations weren't hitting the right spot.

Megan moved the motor up higher on Teddy's back and tried again.

Right away, Teddy began to slowly straighten up, as if his head and shoulders were connected to some unseen strings from the ceiling.

Jaclyn's face lit up in a smile, and the three students reacted with something approaching astonishment.

"Sweet!," Jake said. "It's doing exactly what we thought it would do."

"It's kind of surprising to see, actually," Buck said.

"Definitely a good feeling," Jake added.

And Teddy? He just took in his new view of the world, scanning the smiling faces that surrounded him, probably wondering what all the fuss was about.

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