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Student multidisciplinary project increases quality of life for disabled veterans

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April 24, 2017

Students with the cane.University of Detroit Mercy students saw their hard work evolve from a simple idea to life-changing results when they presented their capstone projects to veterans at the VA Medical Center on April 21.

Detroit Mercy Engineering and Nursing students, along with Lawrence Technological University students, collaborated with veterans to create projects to help the veterans in their every-day lives. The result? An improved quality of life for veterans.

“It was great working with the veteran, our client,” Detroit Mercy Mechanical Engineering student Leo LaBond said. “I had a really good time building something that could help someone out down the road. A lot of times people design something, but they forgot about the customer. It’s really nice to be able to talk directly with our client and see his reaction.”

LaBond and his team created the Walk & Life cane, which looks like a standard cane, but has a stirrup that pops out of the bottom that vets can use to lift their feet.

The team worked with Vietnam veteran George Holewski on the project, who had been pulling on his pant legs to help lift his feet prior to the Walk & Lift cane.

“It’s going to help me get in and out of vehicles, when I lay down in bed, just help me tremendously,” Holewski said. “Right now, I have to use my pants in order to get up and when you wear shorts, I have no way of lifting up my legs. With this device I can wear my shorts and still be able to pull up my legs.”

The Walk & Lift cane was one of five projects on display at the VA Hospital.

Engineering student Frank McCloskey and his group developed a cushion with pressure-relieving pads that reduce the risk of pressure ulcers. McCloskey enjoyed working with students and the veterans, and feels using school work to serve those in need reinforces the mission of Detroit Mercy.

“It’s honestly why I came to this school,” McCloskey said of the Detroit Mercy mission. “At the end of our four years, to use all we’ve learned for the past four years to create something that helps the community, helps the veterans, it’s personally what I became an engineer for. It was great to build something for them that makes their life better, that’s what we’re engineers for.”

Nursing students were also involved in the projects to make sure the devices made by the engineers were safe.

Detroit Mercy Nursing student Hayley Infante worked with a group that created a grip-assisting glove for a veteran and enjoyed the collaboration on the project.

“Teamwork is huge in the medical field and getting the chance to collaborate with people whose field I don’t know a lot about, is great because now it makes me more well-rounded and empathic to people who I don’t know a lot about their field and be more empathic to my patients,” Infante said.

“Our client has problems gripping things so we were able to help him solve that, now he can pick up things on his own,” she added. “He can keep up with hobbies like doing yard work, he likes to cook and now with the product that we made for him, that’s so much easier for him to do.”

Veteran Ronald Wilson got involved in the program for the second time with an idea for a mobile shower stall for wheelchair users. Wilson has a rolling shower in his own house, but had ideas to improve the design in hopes of helping others.

“There are so many individuals who are condemned to live a life of taking bed baths,” Wilson said. “When my spinal cord injury occurred in 1993, for the first two years, I took bed baths and I developed a body odor. And when I mean ‘Odor,’ I mean ‘Oh-dear!’

“When I was able to move into a house that had a rolling shower, the first time I took a shower I cried. I rubbed myself raw trying to get rid of that odor. I’ve always prided myself with good hygiene. From what I’ve been told by my doctors, the federal government considers showers for the disabled to be a luxury item. I disagree with that so much. It should not be a luxury.”

Wilson said he recommends the program to other veterans. His message to them?

“If you get an opportunity, it’s very rewarding,” Wilson said of what he tells other veterans. “I come from an electro, mechanical background so it’s a lot of fun for me. I’d do it every year if I’m allowed to.

“It’s just a real thrill, and it’s rewarding to me to be a part of their educational experience,” he added.

Detroit Mercy Engineering student David Duron and his group created a stretching device that helps their client stretch his legs anywhere so he can avoid having to do physical therapy every day.

“One of the biggest problems was he spends hours and hours a week stretching, it takes up most of his day sometimes, depending on how he wakes up,” Duron said. “He wanted something in-home that he can use and portably, something he can use in a hotel room if he’s traveling. It’s a great product because it is so mobile, it’s versatile for an entire market. People need to stretch, especially certain areas.

“It’s great. It’s what I work for, it’s why I wanted to become an engineer. I love it.”

— By Dave Pemberton. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.

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Media Coverage

"University students make assistive devices for veterans," and video The Detroit News, April 21, 2017

"Vets benefit from partnership between Engineering, Nursing programs," University of Detroit Mercy Alumni, April 24, 2017

Disabled veterans receive new devices designed by Detroit Mercy students (Fox 2)

Detroit Mercy engineering students present capstone project to veterans (WDIV)

Detroit Mercy students present capstone projects to veterans (WXYZ)

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