"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
"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
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
"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
"I learned a lot about biomedical design, project
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
- Sara Teleyzn,