Life-Changing Experience: UConn Engineering Students Help Ashford Boy

graphicBy Journal Inquirer Staff

Published: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 2:04 PM EDT

ASHFORD — On May 8, several graduating University of Connecticut students from the Biomedical Engineering program delivered their final projects to a local child in Ashford.

“It brought us to tears,” Brenda Stenglein, the child’s mother, says.

She says that throughout the year, these students worked tirelessly to devise and create specialized devices to improve the life of her son, Sean Stenglein, an 11-year-old boy impacted by cerebral palsy. Sean, who is non-ambulatory and non-verbal, was “thrilled” when his new friends appeared with the five devices, each built to give Sean opportunities for greater independence than his family could ever have imagined.

graphic“They’re just amazing, and we want to tell the world how awesome they are,” Brenda says.

The Senior Design course of UConn’s Biomedical Engineering program, under the direction of Professor John Enderle, challenges students to work in teams and translate concepts and principles they’ve learned into practical applications for people with disabilities.

Enderle met Sean by chance in spring of 2008, Brenda says, when Enderle stopped at Sean Patrick’s, the family’s garden center, to get plants for his garden.

“Dr. Enderle and Sean made an instant connection, and he knew Sean was an excellent candidate to be the focus of the graduate student’s projects for the 2009 school year,” Brenda recalls.

Throughout the past year, Brenda says, the students invested countless hours “working with us, meeting with therapists, researching cerebral palsy.”

On the day when the devices were delivered, two physical therapists, Cyndi Jenning and Usha Kanthi, were present to give their seals of approval.

The first project to arrive at the Stenglein home was a trampoline installed in the backyard, allowing Sean to jump safely by himself. The trampoline apparatus fully supported by a crane arm consists of a secure harness, permitting Sean to jump independently and freely without assistance.

According to Brenda, the joy provided by the jumping device, created by UConn students Kelly Valentine, Caitlin Martin, and Blaine Ericson, is immeasurable.

The second project, designed by the same three students, was an Augmentative Communication Mounting device for the car. Sean’s communication skills are limited by his illness, and this device allows him to communicate with his family and friends in transit, something that had not been possible before.

The third project, a go-kart, created by students James Paolino, Eric Leknes, Alex Jadczak, and Tarek Tantawy, enhances Sean’s limited motor control since it can be operated in three ways: by remote control, joystick control, and through a head switch.

graphicAccording to Brenda, students, therapists, and family members alike were overcome at the joy that this child exhibited as he rode through the fields, all by himself. It was obvious that the student designers “were amazed and delighted to see how their hours of hardwork and creativity paid off as the go-kart provided incredible joy and freedom to Sean.”

The last two projects presented, which were created by Fryderyk Karnas, Robert Knapp, and Peter George, were a multi-terrain, portable wheelchair and a standing gardener. The wheelchair allows Sean access to both snow and sand surfaces and has inflatable tires, allowing the wheelchair traction on difficult terrain.

The standing gardener was created to allow Sean the ability to participate in his family greenhouse business as never before. Sean is now able to work side by side with his family in the family greenhouse business, Sean Patrick’s Plants. This device comes equipped with soil-holding drawers, a turntable for various sized pots, and a specialized tool area. With Sean’s very own work station, he can pot flowers by himself, needing no assistance.

Published: September 9, 2009