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Precision Machining Crew Creates Mobility Device for Watertown Girls

Posted on: January 27, 2011   |   Category: News

Thanks to the efforts of Lake Area Technical College Precision Machining students Kyle Knouse, Ray Meyer, Brent Summers and program instructor John Rider, two Watertown children now have the opportunity for greater mobility.

Trinity Miller, now a 7th grader, and her younger sister Carrigan, were both born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The girls, daughters of Kevin and Sharon Miller of Watertown, are bright and social. Their condition, which is irreversible, features severely weakened muscles and the inability to move independently.

Marnie Hoftiezer is an occupational therapist who works with the girls at Watertown Middle School and at home. Three years ago Marnie came across an ad for a special therapeutic device, a device Hoftiezer though might enable Trinity to color and do projects with children her age. The device, called a “deltoid” aid for the arm-muscle it assists, was too expensive for the school to consider purchasing. Undaunted, Hoftiezer tried to make one with PVC pipe. The result was clumsy, but workable, and it convinced Hoftiezer to seek out more expert help.

Enter Lake Area Technical College instructor John Rider and the Precision Machining crew. Working off the PVC pipe model and a description from Hoftiezer, Rider and three students were able to produce a functional deltoid aid. The concept was fairly simple: a tall metal rod fastened to the back of Trinity’s wheelchair. A sling, attached to an outrigger from the rod, suspended the fourth grader’s arm against gravity and allowed her to make small wrist movements.

Trinity used her deltoid aid on a daily basis. In fact, the device itself was such a success that Rider and his students decided to make it even better. Just before Christmas this year the four men presented Trinity and Carrigan with prettier, more versatile versions of the original deltoid aid. The new aids are powder-coat painted the girls’ favorite colors—blue for Trinity and pink for almost-three-year-old Carrigan. Carrigan’s aid is even stamped with her favorite Care Bear, Funshine. Made of functional, sleek steel, the new design attaches to an out-of-the-way shaft on the girls’ chairs. When removed, it folds easily into a tight, convenient bundle.

Rider said that while Precision Machining students have been involved in other projects for the community, he considered the Miller’s deltoid aids a personal priority. “When it involves helping someone who needs it so badly, it goes to the top of my list”, he said. The students who worked on the project volunteered their time. They did not receive course credit. Materials and painting services were donated by Watertown businesses Macksteel, Fastenal, and Dakota Finishing.