“That day I left my home at 8 o’clock in the morning; I didn’t get back to it for two months,” recalls Kevin P. Meade (MAE ’74, M.S. AMAT ’78), professor of mechanical engineering at Armour College of Engineering, about the hemorrhagic stroke he suffered at his dentist’s office after receiving local anesthesia for a tooth extraction five years ago.
It is one of the ironies of life that Meade, who is also a clinical orthotist, now benefits from biomechanical devices much like the individuals he has supported throughout more than a decade in clinical practice. At Illinois Tech, Meade may be best known for having led teams of students to Latin America, where they provided orthotic treatment to youngsters with scoliosis, or lateral curvature of the spine, through the university’s Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program. Since his stroke, some of Meade’s former students have designed an IPRO course—and an assistive therapeutic device—to benefit their teacher whose life changed in the proverbial instant.
“I kind of joke about this whole situation,” Meade continues in characteristic good spirits, seated in his wheelchair in his office in the John T. Rettaliata Engineering Center. “Now I’m serving in the role of a patient—so I’ve got it all covered.”
“A mechanical engineer learns how parts move, how forces act on bodies; but it’s a really interesting twist to start to see how forces act on human bodies" - Sady Wootten
Meade’s former student Sady Wootten (ME ’15) says that when she learned of Meade’s stroke and saw the difficulties he was having on his right side both sitting and standing, she wanted to help. Inspired by Mobilus—a standing wheelchair her father had begun to design for a friend with multiple sclerosis—she approached Meade about developing an IPRO that would tailor the wheelchair for his specific needs. Meade was flattered but insisted that the project be applicable to as many people as possible with similar disabilities. They agreed to start the process with Wootten doing an independent study course on biomechanics with him.
“A mechanical engineer learns how parts move, how forces act on bodies; but it’s a really interesting twist to start to see how forces act on human bodies,” recalls Wootten, now a junior quality engineer at L&T Technology Services, about her greatest take-away from that course.
Nearly 25 students enrolled in the first IPRO in spring 2015. She divided the class into three groups: one worked on altering Mobilus, which Wootten’s father donated to the project; the second group interviewed and videotaped Meade to determine his needs; and the third group began designing an arm therapy device—The Supinator—to encourage both pronation (turning the hand/arm so that the palm faces down) and supination (turning the hand/arm so that the palm faces up), both which are limited on Meade’s affected side. The Supinator proved to be so beneficial that it became the new focal point of two subsequent IPRO courses (fall 2015 and spring 2016).
“For me, personally, it works,” says Meade about the device, which he has been using for 15-minute sessions, twice per week. Composed of a motorcycle chain, heavy-duty gears, and SiliGrips comfort handles, The Supinator is encased in an easily transportable stainless steel and acrylic tabletop box. [Watch the IIT Magazine Video Extra of Meade demonstrating The Supinator.] The student team has also been working on a similar apparatus to assist in knee flexion, ankle plantar flexion, and ankle dorsiflexion in Meade’s lower limb.
While the IPRO is not currently slated to continue in the fall, The Supinator itself has a promising future. One of Meade’s physicians at the Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital is looking to enlist The Supinator in a clinical trial comparing it to the costly ArmeoSpring therapeutic device now used in stroke recovery. Meade’s colleague in Colombia, Jose Miguel Gomez, M.D., of Gomez Orthotic Systems, has agreed to pilot a Supinator according to the IPRO team’s specifications. And a group of Stuart School of Business students has drafted a business model to help the IPRO team bring The Supinator to a wider number of patients. [See below.]
“We’re looking into doing an open-source model of The Supinator, which would allow for an even more affordable device, as this model comes in at about $200,” says Tyler Grudowski (ME 4th year), current IPRO project manager. “With the open-source model, made of PVC pipe and wood, the cost will drop down to about $50.”
For Grudowski, who lost several family members to heart disease and cancer, this IPRO experience was a high point of his education.
“As a student one of my overarching goals was to develop something in the medical field that would truly have the potential to make a difference and positive impact in someone’s life,” he says. “So when Sady told me about this project I thought, this is it. The goal of this IPRO is to reach out and help not only Dr. Meade but as many people as possible. That’s why I love this IPRO so much.”
NIH “Types of Stroke”: www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/stroke/types
“Work-Centric Prosthetics” and “It Takes a Team to Aid a Child”: magazine.iit.edu/summer-2013/work-centric-prosthetics and magazine.iit.edu/fall-2012/it-takes-team-aid-child