UAB biomedical engineering students donate devices to change lives

Crystal Tumlin's hands are contorted and uncooperative at times due to her disability, but she fights, feverishly feeding paper into a shredder at the document destruction facility.

The work is tough, but she loves it — and is quick to show visitors how proficient she's become at the task.

Crystal is able to work thanks, in part, to the generosity and ingenuity of students from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who designed and built the wheelchair lift that Crystal uses to reach her shredding machine each day.

Crystal is a client of LINCPoint, a rehabilitation and wellness center for adults with severe physical and mental disabilities operated by United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Greater Birmingham. She and three dozen other clients work in the UCP document destruction center and receive regular paychecks.

"Our clients love the work, and it becomes contagious - when one client sees another's paycheck that client wants to earn some money, too," says Rohaun Green, a UCP occupational therapist. "They are working and getting paid and building self-esteem through a sense of accomplishment."

Each semester biomedical engineering students enrolled in the department's senior design class build rehabilitation devices to aid UCP clients. The students receive grades for the design and functionality of their devices at the end of each term, and their devices are then donated to help UCP.

"The therapists and rehab specialists at UCP come to me each year with a list of devices that could help them and their clients," says Alan Eberhardt, Ph.D., a professor in biomedical engineering and faculty instructor for the senior design class. "We assign our students projects that meet the needs, and many times their final designs hit the mark and are put to work at UCP."

Another example of the students' craftsmanship in recent semesters is embodied in a half dozen standing boxes, support devices that give UCP clients the chance to work various projects in a standing position and stretch ailing muscles that normally require the support of walkers or wheelchairs.

Away from the recycling center floor, a sensory station built by the UAB student engineers plays music and projects videos onto walls. Equipped with lights, a bubbling water column and plenty more to stimulate the senses, the device helps UCP clients to mentally and physically engage with their surroundings.

"If we were to buy a similar piece of technology from a specialized equipment program or company, it was going to cost $2,600. We are nonprofit and don't have those resources available," says Jessica Morrow, the life enrichment program supervisor at UCP.

"UAB's Department of Biomedical Engineering is a great resource for us to get access to these devices that enhance our clients' quality of life," Morrow says. "We couldn't do these things on our own, and we deeply value our partnership with UAB."

The partnership between biomedical engineering at UAB and rehabilitation services at UCP will continue this fall when a new round of design projects will be assigned to a new class of seniors, ending with a new round of donations to UCP in December.

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