Iowa students help a kid take off on his own two wheels: BTN LiveBIG

Kirk Murray

Iowa students help a kid take off on his own two wheels: BTN LiveBIG

Jonny Cole’s bike is a suped-up, customized machine. Although it is festooned with flames, it isn’t necessarily a hot rod built for speed. Well, not yet, anyway.

The eight-year-old may still be sporting training wheels on his bike, but he’s miles away from where he was just a few years ago. Until recently, Jonny, a congenital amputee missing the majority of his right arm since birth, couldn’t muster the balance required to get a conventional bike going. It was source of frustration for the boy and his dad, Douglas, a University of Iowa Ph.D. student at the time.

Out of ideas, Douglas turned to the university for a solution. He was pointed in the direction of the biomedical engineering program where students tackle problems much like Jonny’s for their senior year projects. Four students were quick to accept the challenge pitched by Douglas.

“This was actually all of our first choice,” said team member Alicia Truka speaking to the Iowa Press-Citizen. “We saw the project and we immediately wanted to help this kid. Who wouldn’t want to help a kid?”

The team met with Jonny weekly during the design phase of the project to ensure comfort and ease of use. They eventually landed upon a design with a loose-fitting cuff and a single joint roughly analogous to an elbow.

(video by Clarity Guerra/ UIowa)

Recently, the group presented their project “The Little Jonny That Could: Providing Independence for Congenital Arm Amputees” to a group of students, faculty, family and press at the Iowa Memorial Union. Jonny was there too, demonstrating how he could steer his bike with ease thanks to the adaptive device.

Others have now reached out seeking devices like Jonny’s. The team is planning on making their design open-source to allow those in need relatively unencumbered access.

“Our goal is to make all the models and the computer designs public record, so if someone wants to make this for their child, they can,” Truka said. “We just want to help people.”

Douglas, who has since graduated from the University of Iowa, points to the project, and the desire of the students to help a child in need, as indicative of how Hawkeyes give back to their communities.

“My wife and I are so grateful that these young men and women decided to use their knowledge and expertise to benefit their community, and believe that they deserve recognition for their hard work and dedication.”

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