Lyrics to the old classic “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” perfectly describe the love between Temperance, Michigan siblings Hunter and Braden Gandee. Earlier this summer, Hunter, 15, carried his brother Braden, 8, who has cerebral palsy, on his back for 57 miles in the event they call the Cerebral Palsy Swagger. This is its second year. The journey started in Lambertville in southeastern Michigan’s Monroe County and ended at the University of Michigan’s Pediatric Rehabilitation Center in Ann Arbor, where Braden is a patient.
Hunter’s goals were to raise awareness of the permanent movement disorder and to help his brother. He has already succeeded in both. After hearing about the first walk, a group of Michigan Engineering students reached out to the Gandee family and offered to improve the walker that Braden uses to get around—when he’s not on his brother’s back, that is.
Now the 8-year-old has a custom model that better suits the needs of an active kid. It allows him easier mobility on uneven terrains, including playgrounds. Mechanical engineering students Ariana Bruno, Cameron Naderi, John Doherty, and Scott Wigler worked on it as part of their Mechanical Engineering 450: Senior Design and Manufacturing class.
“This project was our No. 1 choice from the beginning because we wanted to create something that would truly make a difference in someone’s life,” said Bruno. “Since cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects each person differently, a universal walker design is not always an ideal solution. It was important for us to really get to know Braden and where he experiences difficulties with walkers.”
To start work, they arranged to have a 3-D full body scan of Braden. They used that scan to obtain precise measurements. This allowed the students to locate the areas where Braden could use enhanced support. The group then modified the Drive Medical walker with larger front wheels that had shock absorbing joints to help Braden maneuver the walker more easily over uneven terrains. They also worked with the Gandee family and Braden’s physical therapist and were able to identify a need for an improvement on the walker’s handle bars to encourage better posture.
Since cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects each person differently, a universal walker design is not always an ideal solution.Ariana Bruno
“We created adjustable handle bars that allow Braden to rotate the walker to various angles to achieve the optimal positioning for his posture and also reposition to allow a relaxed posture on days when his muscles were tight,” said Bruno.
Team member Scott Wigler said the group researched multiple wheel types and castors, and decided on a wheel that came in a castor with springs and dampers to lessen the vibration and allow easier travel over uneven terrain.
“My team and I machined the wheel casters to make them compatible with the walker,” added Wigler.
Class instructor Amy Hortop was proud of the group’s dedication.
“The students who worked on this project were really motivated to create a great walker for Braden,” said Hortop. “After their first meeting with Braden and his family they were truly inspired. I know they hope their design will prove to have a positive impact on his life.”
Braden’s mom says their efforts are already paying off.
“The modifications they made to his walker, especially the rotating handle bars were great,” said Danielle Gandee, Braden and Hunter’s mom. “It’s trial and error and a real learning process when trying to create the perfect walker and I’m hoping that a future class group will choose this project again and elaborate on the walker even more.”
Braden’s brother, Hunter, plans to continue supporting his younger brother and calling attention to the cause.
“I want to be able to help him in anyway I can. I see how much work he has to do everyday to just simply walk. A lot of people don’t think of that and my goal is to get people to start thinking of ways they can help,” said Hunter.