College students invent devices to help disabled vets

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Detroit — College students have created devices they say will improve the quality of life for disabled veterans and others with impairments.

Lawrence Tech biomedical engineering student Hayley Walkowski of Novi shows Evelyn Horwitz, 90, of Ann Arbor a removeable device that can transform any manual wheelchair into an automatic. Students were demonstrating prototypes of devices they invented.

Seniors from Lawrence Technological University and University of Detroit Mercy presented devices like detachable drive units for manual wheelchairs, accessible sink installations, a harness for those who uses walkers and a leg flexure for a veteran with edema.

The project means students can test their problem-solving skills and prepare for careers in areas such as nursing and engineering, and recipients can benefit from the hands-on, specific-need approach.

On Thursday, they unveiled the devices they’ve been working on since September at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center.

Students work in groups of six and create a device for a specific client, typically a disabled veteran but others with disabilities often participate. The students were nursing, biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering majors.

Molly McClelland, a professor of nursing at UD Mercy, said the devices had to be original and something clients could use on a daily basis.

“I think the biggest impact obviously is with the veterans,” McClelland said. “The veterans feel appreciated, cared for, we are giving them some attention. The second is with the students — students being able to use their skill set on a real problem.”

University of Detroit Mercy mechanical engineering student Marco Cattani of Rochester Hills demonstrates a device that helps circulate blood in a patient's legs.

Average project cost was about $1,000 to $2,000 and were funded by donations from Fiat Chrysler Automotive and other sponsors. Students met with clients and devised their own materials for the inventions, McClelland said.

Melisa Ramirez, a mechanical engineering major at Detroit Mercy, said her group invented a leg flexure to help a veteran who has blood clots in his legs and edema, or swelling from fluid retention.

The device, she said, was meant to help increase blood circulation in his legs.

“Being able to really understand how what we learn in class can be applied and being able to to say, ‘I can fix this’ — that’s how inventions get made,” Ramirez said. “You start seeing, you start observing and being very open to wanting to make their situation better.”

Ramirez’s partner, Samantha Wheeler, a biomedical engineering major at Lawrence Tech, said the project was good practice for their careers.

“I like the idea of working for a specific person,” Wheeler said. “It’s extra motivation to do a quality job, to get it done in a timely manner and it’s more representative of what we’ll be doing in the real world.”