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KNOXVILLE–Rupy Sawhney, Weston Fulton Professor and head of the Department of Industrial Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is used to presenting his students with tough questions. A year ago, he presented them with this challenge: find a way to help Edi Deaver, a UT alumnus with cerebral palsy, be more mobile.

“He wasn’t able to get from his wheelchair to his bed and often had to sleep with his shoes on,” said Sawhney. “I said to my graduate students ‘How can we help him?’ And they got together and came up with a plan.”

A team of five graduate students, led by Lavanya Marella, researched how Deaver’s body moved and then customized an over-the-bed lift system to accommodate his movements. Sawhney used research funds to purchase the system that was adapted for Deaver’s needs.

“We have a mission in our department, which is to be relevant to our community,” said Sawhney. “We take state-of-the-art research and bring it to the community to help the community. That is our purpose.”

Lift SystemFor the past year, the students have been working closely with Deaver to augment the system—installing pop-up buttons on the controller, planning safer transfer and lifting procedures for his body, and installing stoppers so the machine won’t move if he accidentally pulls too hard. Applying Deaver’s movement to the function of the system has proven to be a source of motivation for Marella’s research dissertation on elderly and disabled people.

“I’m now conducting research on analyzing and quantifying disabilities due to diseases that cause mobility impairment over time,” said Marella. “By examining basic motions, such as grasping, reaching, standing, sitting, moving, and so on, that affect a person’s ability to perform activities of daily living, my research aims to help reduce dependency for populations with disabilities.”

In addition to customizing the system, Marella and the other students have been training Deaver to use it.

As they’ve worked together, a strong bond has developed between Deaver and the students.

“It means so much to me that they would take their time to do all this for me,” Deaver said. “They are wonderful people.”

With the satisfaction of being able to help someone, the students hope they’ll be able to conduct research to develop more systems to help patients with mobility problems.

C O N T A C T :

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460,