Nursing and Engineering collaborate to help people with disabilities
University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) Engineering and Nursing programs have partnered with the John Dingell Veterans Administration Hospital (VA), Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS), and Michigan Spinal Cord Injury Association (MI-SCIA) to develop a unique collaborative multidisciplinary course, with the goal of utilizing innovative technology to assist physically disabled members of the community. Additional objectives of the multidisciplinary course include improving student communication and collaboration skills necessary for the workplace, providing a unique and enhanced educational experience for UDM students, and finally, graduating professional, ethical, intelligent and team-focused individuals able to effectively improve the lives of others.
The expected course outcomes are to develop the ability to carry out the design process starting with a recognized need, through problem definition and specification culminating with a complete design package including assembly drawings and part prints using a collaborative multidisciplinary approach. Engineering students focus on technical details, specifications, marketability and usefulness of the product. Nursing students evaluate the potential client’s physical, emotional and mental health needs throughout the design and implementation process.
The Veteran Client
Recently, during conversations with the VA, Kevin was identified as a potential client for the multidisciplinary course. Kevin had served in the United States armed forces but unfortunately developed a genetic disorder known as spinocerebellar ataxia. This inherited disease destroys the cerebellum, an area of the brain responsible for coordination and movement. The multidisciplinary team including UDM engineering and nursing students and professors met Kevin for the first time at the VA hospital in Detroit following one of his neurological evaluations to treat his condition. Kevin spends most of his time in a wheelchair with assistance from his dog, Sage. Kevin’s movements are sporadic and difficult. He is weak and all of his extremities jerk most of the time. Nonetheless, Kevin remains very active, enjoys the outdoors, participates in wheelchair competitions, enjoys photography and is an avid hunter.
The team identified that Kevin’s disease prevented him from being able to hunt or take photographs due to an inability to stabilize equipment such as a gun or camera. He asked the multidisciplinary team if a stabilizing device could be built that he could attach to his wheelchair that would allow him to stabilize items such as his gun or camera so he could return to his outdoor hobbies.
Designing the Product
The primary design goals of the device were that it would be durable, reliable, safe and effective. Kevin and the design team identified options for the new device. Nursing students provided evaluation and consultation throughout the entire development process and taught the other team members about complications related to spinocerebellar ataxia with input from the VA nurse practitioner familiar with Kevin’s case. Engineering students began identifying ways to design and build technology that would allow Kevin to return to the outdoor activities he loves.
After several design iterations, satisfaction from all multidisciplinary team members and approval from Kevin, a final design was created and accepted. The device was secured to the back of Kevin's wheelchair with the option of bringing it forward and into place when stabilization is required or keeping it folded behind the chair when not needed. In addition to providing stability for equipment, the design team instituted other applications for the device including an umbrella holder and grocery carrying capacity. The unique assistive device was deemed a successful and effective product which allows Kevin to stabilize devices such as guns and cameras so he is able to still perform the activities that he enjoyed doing prior to developing spinocerebellar ataxia. Kevin’s case is one example of a successful multidisciplinary collaborative effort in higher education made possible because of the community partnerships and program teamwork.
Source: Molly McClelland, McAuley School of Nursing