Dec 2, 2011 3:24 AM by Nancy Chen
Something as simple as swimming in the ocean can be extraordinarily complicated for anyone who has lost an arm or a leg, but some Cal Poly engineering students are trying to make the impossible possible by creating prosthetic limbs for wounded veterans.
In a program called Quality of Life Plus (QL+), Cal Poly seniors work together for about a year to create prosthetic limbs for clients--usually veterans wounded in battle--so they're able to enjoy specific activities like golfing, scuba diving and hockey.
The attachments are free to their recipients; the four-year-old nonprofit is in part funded by Jon N. Monett, a Cal Poly engineering graduate who is a retired senior CIA executive and the founder of QL+.
Projects displayed in an expo Thursday included a metal attachment to allow someone who lost his leg in an IED explosion to play hockey, a prosthetic for an amputee to scuba dive, a wheelchair lift to let someone sit on the grass and a device to keep someone from rolling downhill in a wheelchair.
"They were very active sports-related and competitive people," said Dr. Tom Mase, the director of the QL+ lab. "You don't end up in those positions without being that way. So when they're injured, they come back, and they want to get that flair back in them."
Clients typically come to the lab from all across the country and provide an idea of exactly what they are looking for; lab participants call them "challengers" and begin with research into the injury.
"The software is where the ideas are born for us," said Cal Poly senior Kit Perkins, who worked on a prosthetic hockey leg. "We start with a two-dimensional drawing and expand it to 3D parts."
Hundreds of hours later, their designs are made into reality by a machine on campus. Perkins estimates he's spent up to 800 hours in the past few months on his project for his challenger, who lives in Washington, D.C.
At one point, Perkins traveled to Washington, D.C. to visit his client in person and do fittings in person.
Another project this year were prosthetic arms used for golfing for someone who is a double amputee; because the project was initially started without a client, it was eventually designed around Jim Taylor, a Washington state golfer who has gotten 17 hole-in-ones and is a 12 handicap.
"I lost my arms when I was ten years old," he said. "I got a hold of a 7,300 volt power line. That will do a job."
Taylor, known as a top amputee golfer, said he had crafted his own hooks to use on the green and has been waiting for a product like what the Cal Poly students designed for years now. He said he worked with students so they know would know the importance of designing something like this after someone loses a limb.
"My gosh," he said. "It absolutely destroys a person's imagination of what they're going to have to deal with for the rest of their lives."
At Cal Poly, the saying goes that students learn by doing. And in this case, their learning is helping people do.
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