Baylor engineering students create motorized chair to help toddler

Posted at 10:11 AM, Jun 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-02 18:07:20-04

Baylor engineering students have designed a chair to help a two-year-old girl with spinal muscular atrophy type one, also known as SMA.

The motorized chair allows the toddler, Emmeline Pope, to move around and interact with her peers.

"Emme is really funny. She's full of personality," Chris Pope, her dad, said. "She's at the stage now where she will parrot or repeat almost everything that you say."

About a month after Emmeline was born, her parents, Jenny and Chris noticed something wasn't right.

"She hated tummy time and wasn't kicking her legs anymore," Jenny said.

Within a few months, doctors found Emme has the rare neuromuscular disease.

"Most children, 50-percent don't make it to their first birthday and 90 percent will pass away before their second birthday," Jenny said. "We were devastated."

Thanks to a clinical drug trial for SMA, Emme is beating those odds.

"We were told she wouldn't live very long. We were told she wouldn't be able to hold her head. We were told she wouldn't be able to sit up, we were told she would not breathe on her own and she would eventually pass away. Obviously she's doing completely opposite of what we were told," Jenny said.

Because Emme's muscles are weak, she needs a motorized chair to get around. 

"There is no equipment for children her size that have the types of needs that she has," Jenny said.

Typical motorized chairs weigh up to 400 pounds and are designed for adults. They cost about $30,000. The Pope family wanted another option for Emme and other children in a similar situation.

A few months ago, senior Baylor engineering students started to design and create a motorized chair for Emme what was lightweight and cost effective.

Sean Martin, the project manager, and other seniors worked for hours on the chair over the course of four months.

"Just seeing that she doesn't get around like everyone else, she can't run around like we did as kids. And being able to make a difference there, that's huge," Martin said.

After four months of work, and some troubleshooting, Emme sat in the chair for the first time on Friday.

"This chair for her is a way for her to explore her environment in a safe way where she can truly start to access the world around her," Jenny said.

The chair is not only changing Emme's life, it's changing Martin's too. 

"Through this entire project I've realized this is what I want to do with my life: product development, human centered design," Martin said. "Something that can really make a difference and I can look at my client's face and see a before and after picture of what my work has done in their life."

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