University of Akron students design unique wheelchair to help two children

AKRON, Ohio-- Garrett Bach could not walk or talk, but his family says he never let his condition affect his zest for life.

Garrett was born prematurely and was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. When he passed away in 2016 at the age of 18 from a seizure disorder, the Bach family kept a wheelchair that came to symbolize how Garrett overcame every hurdle in his journey.

"I wanted to make sure that as special as he was, that the person that would have that piece of equipment like the wheelchair was going to be somebody that was equally as special, or as wonderful, and a part of Garrett would continue to live on," said his mother, Sharon Bach.

An opportunity to find a new purpose for Garrett's chair presented itself, when a family with two children with cerebral palsy asked the Summit County Board of Developmental Disabilities if they could find a wheelchair, so that 15-year-old Gabe McInturff, and his little sister, Josie, could travel together and look out for each other. "Getting out, doing things that all other families do, being able to go to the park or the places they to go and not have to separate as a family to do it," said the board’s assistant director of Children’s Services, Tina Overturf.

Case workers decided to present the problem to students at the University of Akron's College of Engineering to see if they could come up with a solution.

A team of biomedical engineering students was eventually able to design a tandem wheelchair for Gabe and Josie McInturff, by utilizing the chair that meant so much to Garrett Bach and his family.

For the students, the project was a personal quest. Team member Mariam Crow told Fox 8, "Engineering in general is to solve problems, but biomedical engineering is specifically to help people, so I mean it absolutely takes a different kind of heart, a different kind of drive when you're trying to solve issues that are causing people so much pain everywhere."

The joy in the faces of Gabe and Josie McInturff as they use their new tandem wheelchair has been a source of pride for everyone involved in the project, and through it all, Garrett Bach's family has felt his loving presence. "It touched my heart and I knew that I was passing forward a part of my heart and a part of Garrett," said Sharon Bach.

The University of Akron’s Biomedical Engineering Design team is also working on solutions to challenges faced by other families in the region. Some students are fond of calling biomedical engineering, engineering with a heart.