MacKenzie, a student at Chattanooga Christian School uses his scooter to maneuver through campus. The 14-year old boy has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which worsens much more quickly than other forms of muscular dystrophy. Symptoms include fatigue and muscle deterioration, and leads to progressive difficulty walking.
He does not use a wheelchair, but MacKenzie cannot take his scooter into the school restroom. He leaves his scooter outside the door, walks to the handicap stall, the last stall, to use the restroom.
“MacKenzie is very independent, in both mind and body, and he wanted to maintain that independence,” said Cody Flowers, part of a team of engineering students who created an award-winning assistive device for MacKenzie to preserve his independence.
The device the team designed is 30 inches from the floor, both in the vertical and the horizontal position, and is level with MacKenzie’s midway point, where he can shift the most weight.
“We wanted to design something that encompassed the features of, say, a support system near the toilet, something he could put on the wall to hold onto, and a cane, because we wanted him to be able to walk to the stall safely, and to be able to sit and stand safely,” said Flowers.
Originally, the team intended to make the design out of lightweight steel welded together, but the availability of that material proved problematic. UTC engineering students who built a vehicle for participation in the Baja Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International competition donated lightweight steel to the project, but there was not enough, and they were unable to obtain more in time.
Instead, the team adapted their design to be made out of aluminum, riveted together.
“The materials all came from the local hardware store. One employee knew my name by the time it was over,” said Dillon Grider.
Hector Gutierrez was the student who began to sketch out an approach he had, just before the group went in a different direction.
“We were brainstorming and we wanted to combine all these aspects, and we were all putting out ideas, and I just came up with it and drew it out randomly,” said Gutierrez. “I had to explain to them how it would work, because I’m not the best drawer.”
“It was like in a movie where someone pulls out a napkin and a pen and just starts sketching the great idea,” said Grider.
The student group decided to go with rivets instead of welding, which made the build a little tricky.
“We had to drill into some very tight areas to make sure it’s stable. We also encountered some areas that needed extra stability, so we added more brackets and cross-bracing,” said Grider.
The design is lightweight and mobile. After school, McKenzie can take the device home and then use it in other places, like his church, in tandem with ADA compliant railing in handicap stalls, Flowers explained.
The design is specific to MacKenzie’s height, but with a telescopic cane, could easily be made adjustable to other heights.
“We have seriously weight tested it, and it can definitely take his weight,” said Grider.
The team is looking at getting the idea patented through the school.
“It was rewarding, getting to help someone out. One of the best parts is that we could stop by Chattanooga Christian School in a month or two and see him using this device we made. And that’s what we hoped would happen. We wanted him to be able to use it for as long as possible, and we wanted his life to be enriched,” said Erik Dale.
“I think that’s an important idea, that we can become engineers and create things that actually help people and make the world better,” said Gultierrez.
The project won a Certificate of Excellence for Most Outstanding Project in the spring 2015 CECS Design Showcase. Originally budgeted for $400, the project came in well under the amount with a final cost of $200.