Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Research Scientist Applies Skills to Helping Disabled

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Research Scientist Applies Skills to Helping Disabled

Article excerpt

TULSA (AP) _ On a wall near the desk in Chuck Laenger's office hangs a print by Jorge de la Fuente, a Mexican plastic surgeon-turned-artist.

The Salvador Dali-influenced image shows a fragmented female form lying in a surrealistic landscape.

The print is a metaphor of sorts for Laenger, 63, a rehabilitation engineer who helps design custom wheelchairs and braces.

"I feel a real kinship to this print," Laenger said. "In my work, we try to put the pieces back together, to make a better life for people with disabilities."

Laenger is manager of rehabilitation engineering and orthotics at the Kaiser Rehabilitation Center, part of Hillcrest Medical Center.

A desire to bring freedom to those whose lives are restricted by disabilities led Laenger away from his former career as a research scientist working on weapons guidance systems, ultrasonics and magnetic resonance imaging.

"I use technology to make lives better," said Laenger, a Shreveport, La., native with a degree with electrical engineering.

"When I worked in electronic warfare, I didn't like the end product.

Working in rehabilitation engineering makes me sleep good."

The turning point for Laenger came 12 years ago at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

"I was working on medical instrumentation for the artificial heart,"

he said. "We were asked to find a way to help teachers communicate with students who were both deaf and blind."

Laenger and his team developed an electro-mechanical hand that fingerspells. The device was operated by a teacher using a keyboard, and students touched the hand as it spelled out words.

"It worked, but the device wasn't adopted," Laenger said. "But that experience changed my life and my career's direction."

Stanford Research Institute now is working on Laenger's idea, using his prototype.

Laenger said his work involves a team that includes people such as physical and speech therapists, occupational therapists, doctors and the patient. …

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