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U-M Mechanical Engineering Students’ Project Impacts Braden Gandee’s Life


Lyrics to the old classic “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” perfectly describe the brotherly love between Temperance, MI siblings Hunter and Braden Gandee. On June 7th Hunter, 15, carried his brother Braden, 8, who has cerebral palsy, on his back for 57 miles to help raise awareness for the permanent movement disorder in this year’s Cerebral Palsy Swagger. 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.

The connection between the University of Michigan and the Gandee family reaches farther than Braden being a patient at the U-M Pediatric Rehab Center. Earlier this year four U-M Mechanical Engineering students took on a project that changed the eight-year-old’s life for the better. Ariana Bruno, Cameron Naderi, John Doherty, and Scott Wigler took on the challenge of creating a customized walker for Braden, one that allowed him easier mobility on certain terrains. The work was for a U-M ME class, Mechanical Engineering 450: Senior Design and Manufacturing.

“The students actually reached out to us about working on a walker for Braden,” said Danielle Gandee, Braden and Hunter’s mom. “The modifications they made to his walker, especially the rotating handle bars were great. It’s trial and error and a real learning process when trying to create the perfect walker and I’m hoping that a future (ME450) group will choose this project again in the future and elaborate on the walker even more,” she added.

Considering the ME:450 group really enjoyed working with Braden and his family, there could be a good chance a future group would take this project on down the road.

“This project was our number one choice from the beginning because we wanted to create something that would truly make a difference in someone’s life,” said Ariana Bruno. “Unlike some of the other projects, what stood out to us was having Braden and his family as sponsors and being able to develop that personal connection with them to adequately understand where improvements could be made to best suit Braden’s active lifestyle. 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.”

The ME450 group arranged to have a 3-D full body scan of Braden and used that scan to obtain precise measurements. This allowed the students to locate the areas where Braden could use enhanced support. The group 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, such as the ones he experiences on playgrounds. They also worked with the Gandee family and Braden’s physical therapist and were able to identify a need for an improvement on the current walker’s handle bars to encourage better posture.

“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.

According to Scott Wigler, 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 transversal over uneven terrain.

“My team and I machined the wheel casters to make them compatible with the walker,” added Wigler.

ME450 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 brother, Hunter plans to continue supporting his younger brother and it’s evident that his efforts are paying off.

“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.

Braden’s school has plans to build a new playground, one that will offer more accessibility for him.

“With Braden it really all comes down to accessibility,” said Hunter.