Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Power of Fun: A Chance Meeting between an Engineering Professor and an 11-Year-Old Boy with Cerebral Palsy Led to the Creation of Five Devices That Enhanced the Child's Life

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Power of Fun: A Chance Meeting between an Engineering Professor and an 11-Year-Old Boy with Cerebral Palsy Led to the Creation of Five Devices That Enhanced the Child's Life

Article excerpt

On a June day in 2008, Dr. John Enderle, director of the biomedical engineering program at University of Connecticut (UConn), stopped at the Ashford, CT plant nursery, Sean Patrick's Plants, to buy plants for his garden. While there, he met Sean Patrick Stenglein, an 11-year-old boy living with cerebral palsy. Sean works at the greenhouse with his parents, Brenda and Patrick Stenglein, who own the business they named for their son, "in honor of the miracle of his life."

"I saw Dr. Enderle watching Sean," Brenda Stenglein remembered. "Then he asked me if Sean had ever ridden a go-kart. Of course, he hadn't. There aren't any go-karts that meet Sean's needs."

Dr. Enderle saw possibilities for Sean, and had access to resources that he extended to the Stenglein family. Each year, UConn biomedical engineering students create devices for people with disabilities under the auspices of Research to Aid Persons with Disabilities, a program funded by the National Science Foundation. Dr. Enderle asked Brenda if Sean could be the recipient of the projects made in the upcoming school year.

"I started to cry right there. I couldn't believe what he was saying," Brenda said.

Dr. Enderle gave the Stengleins reports and photos of projects UConn students had completed in previous years, and asked them to choose devices that would enhance Sean's life.

"The family chose 5 projects that were difficult, but a good challenge for the students," Dr. Enderle said. "The initial ideas for the projects came from the photos, but then the devices were specially tailored for Sean."

On May 8, 2009, alter a year of working closely with Sean, his family, his physicians and therapists, as well as experts in the field of cerebral palsy, the group of UConn seniors delivered their final projects to Sean. The 5 assistive devices included a trampoline, a "Standing Gardener" that helps Sean in the family's greenhouse, a device that allows Sean's communication unit to be mounted in a car, an all-terrain wheelchair, and the go-kart Dr. Enderle mentioned to Brenda on that first fateful day.

The trampoline is fun for the whole Stenglein family, thanks to a hydraulic crane arm that holds a special harness for Sean. "The team of students that made the trampoline had to set a 3-by-3-foot concrete block down into our yard, for installing the steel support and I-beam that holds the harness," Brenda said.

The harness itself was designed to include supportive aspects of Sean's car seat; the students had to purchase one of the car seats to work with, cutting it apart and adapting the design of it. After all that hard work, the results were magical: "They made a trampoline for my child who can't stand up on his own," Brenda Stenglein said. "Now he gets to experience the sensation of jumping on his own, and flying through the air."

Sean stands with the help of a Leckey Freedom Stander. Brenda points out that it's very important for Sean to bear weight every day, and the Freedom Stander allows him to do that. The UConn students adapted the design of the stander to create the Standing Gardener, a standing device that not only supports Sean's feet, knees, hips, and trunk, but also features storage for soil and other gardening supplies that he needs for his work at Sean Patrick's Plants.

The stainless-steel Standing Gardener has a semi-circular tabletop, a rotating "lazy Susan" type device to hold various sizes of pots, and handles that Sean can hold for balance. …

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