A team of students and faculty members from Grand Valley State University is working with Gabby Troeger, a 3-year-old girl from Hudsonville who has cerebral palsy.

The team is conducting a study to determine if power mobility training results in changes to the range of activity of children who have multiple and severe disabilities.

The study involves Gabby sitting in a power wheelchair trainer, built by engineering students, that has three buttons she uses to navigate. An EEG (electroencephalogram) testing cap, built by engineering graduate student Nadina Zweifel, tracks and records Gabby's brain activity.

Lisa Kenyon, associate professor of physical therapy; John Farris, professor of engineering; and a group of students majoring in physical therapy and engineering are working with Gabby to use the device. Kenyon said the goal of this project goes beyond research.

"Gabby is extremely engaging, but she does not have the ability to move herself or communicate verbally," said Kenyon. "We hope our research will give children with multiple disabilities the ability to be mobile."

To their knowledge, this research is the first study of its kind to use EEG recording equipment to monitor brain activity of children while they navigate their way with a power wheelchair trainer.

"When we first started working with her (Gabby) she didn't understand cause and effect, but now she does," said Kenyon. "She is driving the power wheelchair trainer well. She's making decisions and choices, exploring and interacting with her environment."

Now in the second phase of testing, her mother, Jessica Troeger, said she has noticed improvements since she started working with the team in September. "Gabby is much more alert. She's happy and gets excited when we get to train," she said.

Stacey Omiljan, a student in the physical therapy doctoral program, serves as Kenyon's graduate assistant. Omiljan said it has been incredible to witness Gabby develop and grow.

"Although we are collecting data and analyzing it for research, it is about so much more because these experiences could be life changing for the children," she said. "I love to see the smile on her face when she is driving and listening to her parents talk about how proud they are of her."

The group will continue working with children in 2016 and hopes to receive funding to purchase more sophisticated equipment to continue their research.


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