Digital camera on wheelchair lets disabled student shine


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Posted Online: May 23, 2003, 12:00 am
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) -- The heart attack and resulting brain injury that robbed Katie Cram of most of her mobility and speech four years ago also took from her many of the activities other teenage girls take for granted.

Jon Turnquist gave one back to her.

The St. Ambrose University adjunct professor and occupational therapist rigged a switch that would allow the 17-year-old who has very little movement of her limbs to take pictures for the Preston High School yearbook.

``It's a way to keep her being able to do something she always enjoyed,'' said her mother, Jolene Cram, of Preston.

That's what Turnquist's job as director of the Davenport university's Assistive Technology Lab is about: putting together devices -- whether electronic or mechanical -- that improve the lives of the disabled in small or big ways.

``Occupational therapists use tools to adapt the world,'' said Turnquist, 49. ``If we can't get the patient to adapt to the world, we adapt their environment.''

For Katie Cram, that meant mounting a camera on her wheelchair and rigging a switch that she could push to take the picture.

``She loves to take the pictures and be around other kids in the regular classes,'' said Lisa Schoon, Katie's special education teacher at the eastern Iowa school. ``It has allowed her to participate in a very functional way since they need pictures for the yearbooks.''

Turnquist and his St. Ambrose students tackle each person's problem individually so they aren't forced to rely on a device that was made for someone else, he said. The professor has been a therapist for years and at St. Ambrose for three years. He has thought up hundreds of gadgets.

Items sold in therapy catalogs would accomplish some of the same things Turnquist's creations do but cost significantly more. He works with a budget of several thousand dollars and uses donated or secondhand equipment.

``If we stick with just what the catalogs offer, we aren't being specific,'' said Turnquist, who used to work as a computer programmer. ``We are just getting what the mass market demands.''

Turnquist, who also works at Genesis Medical Center in Davenport, rarely charges for the devices he rigs up. He only asks that they be returned when they are no longer needed so someone else can benefit.

``It's all so functional and inexpensive. John can do almost anything with $50 and an old computer,'' said Christine Malaski, a St. Ambrose assistant professor of occupational therapy. ``He lies awake at night, I swear, and thinks all this stuff up.''

The students who help put together the devices learn the underlying concepts so they can rig various devices, many of which are computer-driven, Turnquist said.

``We're trying to give the students the skills to say, 'Of course, I know how to do this,' `` said Turnquist, of Delmar.

Bettendorf resident Ethel Funk, 75, said she nearly gave up this winter when she found out after having a stroke that she might never walk again. Her vision was impaired due to the stroke, and using a motorized wheelchair was a problem because she would run into things.

``I remember the day they told me that they felt I would never walk. I was crying,'' said Funk, 75, now in a Davenport nursing home.

A nurse called Turnquist, who mounted a device on Funk's wheelchair that scanned in front of her for objects. If she neared an object, it warned her, ``Look to your left, Ethel.''

``I used that the first few weeks until I got to learning somewhat what I needed to do,'' Funk said. ``I can do so much more now. I just thank God every day because it's been a rough time to get through.''

That, Turnquist said, is the most rewarding aspect of his job; seeing someone's life improved because of one of his devices.

He added, ``I have the world's best job.''
















 



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