UA students help child get mobile with modified Power Wheels truck

« Poland Neighbors

Since September 2016, 4-year-old Nathan Ramey has been going once a week to Akron Children’s Hospital for a series of occupational, physical and speech therapy sessions. For 24 months, he received chemotherapy treatments at his home in Green and in the hospital, taking his last dosage on Jan. 18.

Ramey has Down syndrome and is in remission from leukemia, and experienced Clostridium difficile — a side effect from his chemotherapy treatments. Like any child his age, Ramey finds a Power Wheels car to be quite the appealing toy. But because of his illnesses, Ramey has stunted growth and low muscle tone. Something such as walking can be tricky, but he uses a gait trainer to help him be mobile.

A team of biomedical engineering students in The University of Akron’s College of Engineering stepped in to adapt an off-the-shelf Power Wheels kid-sized vehicle, donated by Fisher-Price, to give Ramey some additional mobility that complements his physical conditions.

The design team modified the faux blue Ford pickup truck by: redesigning the accelerator pedal to be within reach and to require less force to activate; modifying the seat to be slightly higher up, with stronger seat belts and extra cushioning; attaching a front bumper to help take away most of the impact if Ramey strikes an obstruction and installing a remote-control kill switch allowing Ramey’s parents to instantly turn off the vehicle’s battery if he is headed in a dangerous direction.

“This project has been an excellent opportunity for the team to get practical engineering experience,” said project leader Christopher Halley, a fifth-year biomedical engineering major from Canfield. “It’s extremely satisfying to know that once this vehicle is presented to Nathan, it will improve his life. The adapted Power Wheels truck is going to be able to expose Nathan to a part of his life that he wasn’t able to reach before. Once I see the smile on his face and how he’s going to be able to truly utilize the toy vehicle, that will make all these months of work worth it.”

The team is also comprised of fourth-year student Reid Polis of Poland and third-year student Steven Innocenzi. Both are biomedical engineering majors. The group was mentored by an engineer from Air Enterprises in order to complete the project, which began in 2017. The project was originally proposed to University of Akron’s Biomedical Engineering Design Teams by the Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board, which has offered project ideas to engineering students in the past.

“We were very excited to see the adaptations to the Power Wheels toy and how well Nathan did with it,” said AmyAileen Ramey, Nathan’s mother. “His activities are limited because of his illnesses; he can’t go to a lake, play in sand or be around large groups of people for too long. Now that the weather is getting warmer, Nathan will be able to enjoy his new truck more often, especially since his treatments for leukemia ended three months ago.”

Ramey received his truck at his home in February, but a brief illness kept him from driving it outside.

On April 12, Ramey and his family met with the design team at East Liberty Park in Green where Ramey was able to drive the truck outdoors for the first time.

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