Wheelchairs are Heavy; Don’t Hurt Your Back!
Joseph Ross, Physical Therapist, Spectrum Health Center for Acute Rehabilitation, had an idea on how to make loading a wheelchair into an automobile trunk easier. He talked with Scott Daigger, manager, innovation and entrepreneurship, Spectrum Health Innovations. He explained how he had created the idea for a patient’s mother who was in her 60s and struggling with loading her wheelchair into her car. “I stayed after work that day and experimented with a crutch, using it as a lever,” Ross says. He demonstrated the maneuver to Daigger. He lifted the chair using the crutch into the trunk with much less effort than expected.
“It was amazing when I had Joe show me his idea,” Daigger says. “However, the crutch wasn’t the optimal tool to use. We decided to work with Hope College’s Center for Faithful Leadership and their student team to design a better, more convenient lever.”
The group of Hope College students began by talking with potential customers to explore possible demand. In their market research, the students and Spectrum Health Innovations found that nearly two million people over the age of 65 in wheelchairs require the help of assisted living.* The next step: create a better lever. They worked through several prototypes and finally came up with a lever that looked something like a pitchfork. They called it LoadMate™. “I’m a biomedical engineering major at Hope College and interested in the medical device industry, so this project was right up my alley,” says Brenden Merriman. He worked on the project with Amanda Napier, Rochelle Miller, and Jonathon Maat.
“We tested our design with residents at a senior day center,” Merriman says. “In one such trial the elderly gentleman was able to load his wife’s wheelchair into the back of his car with one hand while holding his cane in the other. Seeing his excitement at being able to so easily do this simple task again for the first time in years was really touching.” The students took their design to MWest Challenge 2016, West Michigan’s regional business plan competition. They were awarded a $1,000 prize for their work.
Joseph Ross is eager to see the final product so he can let his patients know about LoadMate™. “I have so many patients who have stopped going places because they can’t handle the equipment. LoadMate™ will give them freedom to travel again.”
Scott Daigger at Spectrum Health Innovations says the LoadMate™ will still need a few tweaks to be market-ready. He anticipates the design to receive its final updates over the coming winter semester at Hope College. “I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed working on this project,” says Merriman. “Spectrum Health Innovations was always extremely helpful whenever we ran into a question we couldn’t answer, and I think it’s a great program they have set up with Hope College students. I look forward to working on LoadMate™ in my senior year at Hope.” Ross adds: “Working with Spectrum Health Innovations has been my only opportunity to see one of my ideas turn into an actual product. I don’t have the business or marketing savvy myself, and it’s been great to have their help.”
*Bcbsm.com., “What Is Durable Medical Equipment And How Do I Get It? | Faqs | Bcbsm.Com”. N.p., 2016.
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