The mission of the Program for Assistive Technologies for Underprivileged (PATU) is to allow students to practice engineering skills while they develop strong communication and teamwork skills, gain global perspective, and learn social responsibility through projects for persons with disabilities that otherwise could not afford assistance.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

THIS is why we are here!

NOTE: This post has been edited from it's original version to include more photos!

Today can be best described with the word “wow.” It was an amazing day that finally drove home the real reason why we are here. We have enjoyed learning all that we have in the last week, enjoying the great food, good people, and beautiful scenery, but our real reason for this trip is to help those in need. Today we did just that. Today we learned what really keeps bringing Dr. Urish back here and why she so desperately wanted us to do these projects—the hearts of those who have nothing, need everything, and still live life to the fullest.

We started the day off a bit rocky—there was a juggling of drivers and buses at UESC and we had a new guy that we really didn’t appreciate. We ended up being VERY late to our destination. He was late getting us, stopped to buy CDs WHILE WE WERE IN THE BUS, etc. Hopefully we don’t have THAT guy again!

Once we arrived at our first clinic, Rachel, our OT student, conducted her workshop on how to adapt a device that normally requires fine motor skills to be able to be used with gross motor skills. She did a very good job despite the turf wars that appeared to be going on between the two groups teachers and OTs present (they apparently EACH want to lay claim to being able to do this—not a terrible problem to have, I guess!). She also was very patient when it seemed like Murphy’s law was at work—if it can go wrong, it will! Despite that, I think it was a success and the people here will greatly benefit from her lesson as well as the materials she is leaving. Good work, Rachel!

After lunch we went to the clinic of CREADH. Many many many things went on here. First, we unloaded all of our donations—thank you Amy, Anneli, Aunt Barb, Aunt Linda, Aunt Rita, Aunt Mary Ann, Grandma Barney, Bonnie, Mickey, Auntie Pat, Grandma and Grandpa Shroba, Sharalan, Teri and the Vegas MK ladies, everyone who was in our IE 351 course and the SBC Tech and Society class, and everyone from MOSAIC (I’m sorry if I forgot anyone—I left my list at home!)—your generosity will bring joy and, most importantly, much needed therapeutic tools to those in need. Due to the large amount of theft that happens at the clinic, the OT, Camila, tries to lock what she can at the clinic in cabinets, but takes everything else home every night. As we were given a tour of the facility, students handed out stuffed animals to the children-it was adorable!

We then took over their “arts and crafts” room and set up our devices to demonstrate them to the OTs so they could let us know her opinion and so they could be trained. While we did this, the group who was working on developing the prosthetic hand (Kellner, Sarah, (Justin and Jason-absent)) went into another room to discuss future possibilities for that project—everyone left the conversation very excited. When they returned, the students started showing off their projects.

First, Felicia and Lauren demonstrated the “Theraband slingshot” intended to improve upper extremity range of motion and strength. They created a board with several different habitats and have small stuffed animals with magnets sewn in their paws. They then created slingshots with 4 different strengths of Therabands so there are multiple levels of difficulty. Everyone had fun trying this one out! They also found that their device can be used in other therapeutic ways. The animals can be thrown instead of slung, or a patient can practice fine motor skills by trying to make the paws unstuck using just one hand. Great job, ladies!

Then Andy and Chris showed how to assemble and use the Ladder Ball/Bags game created by Jacob and Lucas. This is ingenious as there are like 1-million games in one set! The therapists love it, love that it breaks down into such small pieces, and has different levels of difficulty (different weights of balls, different sizes of balls, different sizes of targets, etc). Another great job!

Next Madeline, Lindsey, and Maryam discussed with the OT their devices (along with Amy and Mike who are not in attendance). There are several components to this one. First, they had a table top with icons that can be attached to a wheelchair. We are still not sure if it will work to attach, but at the very least it will work simply placed on someone’s lap. There are several icons that the patient can point to to try to communicate. It is also made of plexiglass, so it can easily be written on with a wet-erase marker. Mike created several simple devices that easily strap to a patient’s hand and grasp a pen or other utensil—it was a hit! They also had recordable buttons and an icon book to help their patient, Manuel (or Miguel?), communicate. Well done!

Liz then showed the project for Emanuelle worked on by herself, Scooter, Andy, and Kyle. This project had two components—one that will stay in Brasil, and one that is only a prototype and needs more work. The first is a gaze board. It is a simple piece of plexiglass with icons that you can hold up. One person is looking through the board to interpret where the patient is looking to try to communicate an idea. While simple, it is a great first step to try to help Emanuelle communicate with people around her. The second device still needs some more work, but will allow her to choose icons on an electronic board by blinking her eye. Her mother was very excited about it, and was in tears. Our experience with Emanuelle was truly wonderful—she is a very sweet girl and we hope that we can continue to help her in the future. When she smiled for Christine, I think everyone in the room nearly started crying.

While we were in the clinic, we were paid an unexpected visit from the director of all health services in the city of Itabuna (a very important job). He is very excited about what we are doing, and wants to find ways to help us help them. He was extremely impressed with our projects and thankful for all of the gifts that we brought.

We finished the day be going to the home of one of our patients, Milton. Milton is a quad amputee and has a story that will make you melt. When Christine described him to us, she said he is the happiest person she has ever met. You cannot truly appreciate what she means by that until you meet him yourself. I have never met anyone so optimistic and happy to be alive as Milton. He was an inspiration.

Nine years ago, Milton was a construction worker earning a decent salary, when his whole life changed in the blink of an eye. He was standing on a balcony using a metal measuring tape, when his tape fell onto an electrical line. He was electrocuted with 3,000 V. He was very lucky that his coworkers quickly got to him and pulled his tongue out so he didn’t choke to death. His arms and legs were so badly burned that they had to be amputated, and he therefore no longer has a job. He and his wife live in what would best be called in the US as a shack, but they are happy. He thanks God every day for being alive, and is truly the happiest and most thankful person I have ever met in my life. When we were discussing with him our project, he couldn’t have been more excited, and says he doesn’t care how long it takes, he will be happy with whatever we can give him. The first thing he wants to do with his new hand—brush his teeth! The whole time we were there he just kept thanking us for doing this for him. His wife even made cake for us to have lunch. They were just so nice.

We were inspired and can’t wait to continue working on this project for Milton and everyone else out there that needs our help. I’ve always wanted to do things that help people, it’s been my mission in life. As Dr. Pierce put it, it is just so great to see for ourselves, and teach our students, how the world is a big place, but we can all do our small part to help each other out. As engineers, we have special skills, so why not use those skills to create devices for people that cannot do it for themselves? There is nothing more rewarding than doing something good for someone else.

1 comment:

  1. "First, they had a table top with icons that can be attached to a wheelchair. We are still not sure if it will work to attach..."


    "Mike created several simple devices that easily strap to a patient’s hand and grasp a pen or other utensil—it was a hit!"

    Our client couldn't even use this. But okay.