Prosthetic Arm Project

"It's cool, it goes like zhhh zhhh zhhh," kindergartener Michael Ammerman demonstrates with his left arm, his big, brown eyes twinkling with excitement.

Michael could easily be talking about a toy, but he's not.  Instead, the six-year-old is imitating the movements and sounds of the new prosthetic arm which was specially designed for him by 2011 Rose-Hulman biomedical engineering graduates Sara Telezyn, EJ Oruche, and Clay Britton.

Michael was born with a condition known as bilateral radial and ulnar hypoplasia, leaving him with no forearms and only two tiny fingers on each hand. The students' project (supervised by professors Kay C Dee, Glen Livesay and Renee Rogge) involved creating a prosthetic limb that would work with the child's fully functional fingers. The resulting device extends Michael's reach and allows him greater independence, while being fun and simple to operate.

    Michael Ammerman 
 

 

"He's very excited," says Michael's mother, Bobbi Ammerman. "He says, 'Mommy I look like a robot with this new arm! Can I keep it?'"

That statement brings a smile to Oruche's face. "We wanted it to be fun for him," he says, explaining that the fun factor was one reason the joystick was incorporated into the design.  Michael uses the joystick to control the device.

The three Rose-Hulman students traveled to Michael's hometown of Clinton, Ind., weekly to observe him in the kindergarten class. Then they took measurements and documenting his level of mobility.

"In the first phase, we brainstormed several different design ideas to possibly help Michael perform his daily tasks with more ease," Britton explains. As the development of the prosthetic device progressed, the team used their time with Michael to make adjustments to the custom-made device.

"Michael's case is so unique," Telezyn notes, adding that his condition is so rare that even a specialist they consulted at Riley Children's Hospital had never heard of it.

As the electronics specialist on the team, Oruche's biggest challenge was making the device operate on battery power. He cited trial and error, along with the professors' advice, as tools he used to overcome the challenge.

"I learned a lot about biomedical design, project management, and manufacturing-skills that will undoubtedly help me as I enter the industry as a biomedical engineer," Telezyn says. "But I also learned that the hard work you put into a project can really have an impact on someone's life."

Telezyn, Oruche and Britton say they looked forward to their weekly visits with Michael. "It amazed me how Michael never let his condition bother him," Britton says. "He motivated us as a group, and when we were frustrated with the project, it was nice to have the opportunity to go and see him to boost our motivation."

While the engineering experience they gained was valuable for the design team, one of the best parts of the experience was working to make a difference in a child's life.

"This is the culmination of what we went to school for," Oruche said.
 

 
   "I learned a lot about biomedical design, project management, and
   manufacturing-skills that will undoubtedly help me as I enter the industry
   as a biomedical engineer.  But I also learned that the hard work you put
   into a project can really have an impact on someone's life.

Sara Teleyzn
- Sara Teleyzn,
2011 Biomedical 
Engineering Graduate