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Project Kailyn: Engineering students’ project helps young Milwaukee girl feed herself

For their senior project, a group of engineering students at Marquette University developed a device that allowed a remarkable 11-year-old girl to feed herself.

Kailyn Pieper was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, a rare congenital disorder in which her joints didn't form properly. For Kailyn, malformed joints meant that her arms hang stuffily in front of her, making feeding herself a difficult task.

At home, Kailyn would hold utensils with her toes. At school, she refused.

"Instead, she bends her mouth down to the plate to bite off pieces of breaded pork chop. Holding a section of pork chop in her mouth, she uses it to scoop up mashed potatoes and gravy. When gravy dots her chin, she gently wipes it off on the tray," writes Mark Johnson of the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

Kailyn's stepmother introduced the young girl to a team of engineering students at Marquette University, asking for their help.

Lauren Eno, Robert Herlache, Laura Finn, Cathryn Krier, Kristina Lee and Michael Ventimiglia were up the challenge and set about creating a device that would allow Kailyn to feed herself.

And with the help of designers from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, they did.

"What they come up with is small and white with elegant curves; it looks a little like a swan. At the swan's head there is an opening with rippled spaces for Kailyn's fingers. Here she can grip the device for short periods if she needs to," writes Johnson.

After months of research and development, Kailyn tested the custom spoon-like utensil. It took her less than two minutes to remove it from her backpack and set it up.

After a few successful food-to-mouth attempts, Kailyn rated the device, named Nourish, a "one hundred" on a scale of 1 to 10.

The students estimate that the total cost of making Nourish, including labour, is under $500.

After the students made their final presentation in a Marquette auditorium, Kailyn handed each of them a framed copy of a picture she had drawn with her feet.

Below the drawing, Kailyn wrote:

"These are things that make me happy, and you're one of those things...Thanks from the bottom of my heart for helping improve the quality of my life one spoonful at a time."

"Love, Kailyn Pieper."

Other students making headlines for innovative, life-changing creations include the Ryerson students who created a brain-powered prosthetic arm last year and the fifth-grader who recently designed a video game his blind grandmother can play.

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