Inside a lab at the University of Akron, incredible projects are underway.
The latest is a “tandem wheelchair” that took biomedical engineering students more than a year to create.
The project connects two wheelchairs and allows Dale and Cheryl McInturff to push their two children around solo.
Both Gabriel, 15, and his littler sister Josie, 3, suffer from cerebral palsy and have been wheelchair-bound since birth.
“You keep moving, you try to make their life as normal,” mom Cheryl McInturff said. “It’s tough, but you make what you make of it. You don’t love them any less.”
The value of the tandem wheelchair is hard for Cheryl to even put into words.
“It’s humbling that my kids inspired that, but it inspired me,” McInturff said.
Mom is inspiring, too. Photos from years past show her own set of engineering skills — converting the kids’ wheelchairs into incredible Halloween costumes. They have been turned into R2D2, a vampire in a coffin, Oscar the Grouch, even a rocket ship.
“They like going places, so as long as they’re going places,” McInturff said, adding that they try to get the kids out as much as possible, even though it can be tough.
Mom Sharon Bach knows how difficult life with cerebral palsy can be.
Bach’s son Garrett was born at 24 weeks, deprived of oxygen, and suffered from cerebral palsy as well. He passed away last year, at age 18.
Bach donated Garrett’s wheelchair after his death. It is the same wheelchair Josie now sits in, attached to her big brother Gabe.
The families met for the first time Friday afternoon - an emotional reunion.
“He [Gabe] somehow made this all happen. He’s smiling down on all of us,” Bach said.
Andrew Soltisz was one of the biomedical engineering students who worked on the tandem wheelchair project. The 23-year-old just graduated from the University of Akron and will soon be starting his Ph.D. from The Ohio State University.
“If you ask any biomedical engineering student, they’re going to tell you their main reason for picking this major is to help other people,” Soltisz said.
The project came about because the U of A biomedical engineering students recently partnered with Summit County Developmental Disabilities to create life-changing products for local families. More than 30 students are part of the team, using the skills they learn in the lab and classroom to make a real-life impact.
The tandem wheelchair is one of three projects completed for three separate families since the partnership began last year. The goal is to create many, many more.