The Summit Developmental Disabilities Board honored five University of Akron biomedical engineering students Thursday for their volunteer work designing a prosthetic leg for a 5-year-old Akron girl who loves to dance.
The UA team, which received the Community Impact Award, was among five individuals and entities honored at the Summit board’s second annual Appreciation Breakfast at Quaker Square.
“The Community Impact Award honors a person or group whose volunteerism is impacting lives of individuals with developmental disabilities,” said Summit DD Superintendent John Trunk. “Their innovative and inclusive volunteer efforts help empower people with disabilities to connect to their community in more meaningful ways.”
Audrey had her left foot amputated when she was 15 months old. Each time she received a new prosthesis, it was too big by design and did not allow room for growth. The five-member team worked on the project for more than six months and designed a more fitting prosthesis that provided a snug fit around her ankle and will allow more flexibility for her growth.
“Going into the project, none of us had any experience with prosthetics, but after meeting with Audrey we were willing to put in whatever work was necessary. It was such a rewarding project,” said Travis Pero, the team leader of the biomedical engineering student team that designed the leg.
He thanked his advisers and organizations like Air Enterprises for their support in the program as he accepted the award on behalf of the team before a crowd of nearly 300 people. “It was gratifying to see how what we have studied could improve the quality of her life.”
Other team members are Logan Belew, a junior from East Canton; Steve Conklin, a junior from Montville, Ohio; Nolyn Martz, a junior from Hudson and Will Rasper, a junior from Stow.
In an earlier interview, Audrey’s mother said she was upset after Audrey’s first ultrasound when she learned her daughter could lose a foot due to a birth defect.
“Is she going to be able to walk or play? I had all sorts of fears for her,” said Clarissa McFadden. “But now she tackles everything just like every other kid and then some. With her old prosthetic she couldn’t even make it through an eight-hour day without having a break.”
Pero, a junior from Norton, said Audrey’s prosthesis was too loose and wearing layers of cloth made it more snug, but that made dancing difficult and it snagged her tights. Audrey wants to become a dance instructor when she grows up.
The biomedical engineering team created a soft cast to eliminate the loose fit for the final prosthesis. Audrey received it in late August. She was able to run the 1 mile Kids Fun Run event for the Akron marathon at Lock 3 shortly after receiving the new prosthesis.
“We’ve gotten a lot of publicity, it’s made myself and all of my team members feel like rock stars on campus, but anyone who has had contact with Audrey knows that she’s really the rock star,” Pero said. “It’s always so humbling to receive an incredibly important life lesson from a 5-year-old … We were given a great deal of inspiration from her … through just observing how positive and energetic she was.… She was so happy all the time.
“We all take for granted things like our left foot. Audrey hasn’t had that since an early age, yet that’s not slowing her down at all.”
He said Audrey taught them “the importance of remaining positive regardless of circumstance … and to remain humble in success.
“Not many engineering students get to see their work pay off like this,” Pero said. “I feel lucky to have come to UA, where I can get these kinds of experiences.”
Other recipients at the awards presentation and their awards were:
• Dottie Schrum Culture Award: Peggy Peters, intervention specialist at Stow-Monroe Falls School District for her work on the Teammates program, which allows students of all abilities to work together.
• Innovative Partner Award : Lock 3 (City of Akron) for their continuous efforts of advocacy and accessibility for citizens of all abilities.
• The Russ Pry Elected Public Leader of the Year Award: Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio for the development of the New Paths docket, which is a specialized intervention service offered to families of children with developmental disabilities.
• Carlene Weaver Achievement Award: Don Rettberg Jr., who has a disability and is employed with Environmental Design Group in Akron which named and maintains its Don’s Cafe in his honor.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.