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June 3, 2011 - 

Although Isaac Postma, 10, can move only one finger, he is able to zoom around with other fourth-graders in his new custom-made power chair.

The chair was the work of four Calvin College engineering students—Dan Evans, Matt Last, Matt Rozema and Rob VanderVennen—who developed the prototype device this year for a senior class project.

(L-R) Matt Last, Rob VanderVennen, Matt Rozema, and Dan Evans with Isaac Postma and the power chair they designed for him

Carolyn Koster Yost

Isaac’s parents, Arden, 47, and Deb, 41, members of Ivanrest Christian Reformed Church in Grandville, Mich., said sitting upright in his old wheelchair caused Isaac back pain and trouble breathing, while lying on his side in the new one makes his deteriorating muscles from Spinal Muscular Atrophy more comfortable and makes him less susceptible to respiratory infections and choking.

The motorized chair allows Isaac to control motion buttons while watching a location-scanning screen. And its height makes it easier for Isaac to interact with other people.

The students’ invention, which took 1,800 hours to complete, qualified for entry in the June Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Competition in Toronto, where it was shown to manufacturers.

“There’s nothing like it. Working with Isaac drove us to do the best we could do,” said Dan Evans.

Commercial enterprises supplied some needed parts and expertise in welding, and Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation of Grand Rapids, Mich., installed memory foam bedding and requested entry of the device in the Toronto competition.

Ivanrest members donated remaining costs of building the chair.

Isaac recently demonstrated his new mobility to fellow students at Byron Center (Mich.) Christian School, which he and his sister, Jillian, 12, attend.

“Everyone was cheering him on and clapping,” said his mother, Deb.

The students, who graduated in May, built the device from start to finish. They enhanced Isaac’s life along with their own, Deb said, seeing the special need and the abilities God gave them to help.

“These guys stepped up and said, ‘We will do this.’”

Related Link

Video of the engineers working on Isaac’s mobility chair

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