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LETU Professor, Students Improve Wheelchairs in Guatemala


LeTourneau University engineering professor Norman Reese and engineering students Cameron Tally of Clarinda, Iowa, and Andy Brauning of Montoursville, Penn., have traveled to Antigua, Guatemala, to improve wheelchairs being used by disabled children.

Reese and his students are partnering with Hope Haven International Ministries which seeks to improve the living conditions of persons with disabilities in developing countries.

Daily living for someone with physical disabilities in a developing country without sidewalks or roads, regular access to transportation or healthcare services, or even medical equipment, can be extraordinarily difficult. Hope Haven refurbishes and distributes wheelchairs, having provided over 90,000 wheelchairs in 106 countries. Along with refurbishing chairs, they have developed a robust chair for children called the KidChair. The KidChair is unique because it is built from recycled plastic and metal tubing without any welding, which allows for easy assembly and repair in areas where welding expertise may not be available.

Students in the LETU Frontier Wheelchairs Senior Design Project assist Hope Haven by using their engineering design skills to make the wheelchairs better suited for disabled children and the terrain in which they live. Throughout the course of the semester, the team designed and built a prototype foot rest which offers improved adjustability, and they conducted testing and stress analysis to ensure durability.

Other students on the Frontier Wheelchairs team are Chris Palmer of Nevada City, Calif.; Jeremy Walley of Glendale, Ariz.; and T.J. Kiser of Traverse City Mich.

This week, the LETU engineering students are in Antigua, Guatemala, to review their wheelchair modifications with Larry Jones, the production supervisor of the hope Haven factory.

The purpose of the trip is to get feedback from patients using the wheelchairs, and the seating specialists who work with them, to be sure the device integrates well with the chair, that it functions well and is manufacture-able at the facility in Guatemala. Of special interest is getting advice from the production personnel and wheelchair assemblers, most of whom are wheelchair users.

At various times, up to 20 people are employed at the Hope Haven factory, most of whom use wheelchairs themselves. For many of them, because of their disabilities, they have been unable to learn a job or earn wages to support their families. At Hope Haven, the employees learn to operate machinery and are trained to fit patients to wheelchairs and to educate them how to use them properly.

"Hope Haven impressed me with how they stretch their funds to do so much," Reese said. "Besides providing a good wheelchair, they are concerned for individuals, and they offer jobs and assistance with things like plumbing, heating systems, or housing systems for someone in need."

After the LETU students return to the United States, they will make design improvements based on suggestions they receive in Guatemala, as well as conduct functional testing and manufacture fixtures. In March, the students plan to return to Guatemala during spring break to provide their final design drawings, prototype and fixtures.

"Our work with Hope Haven supports our mission of serving God's world through engineering," said LETU engineering dean Dr. Ron DeLap. "This particular project will bring mobility and a great improvement in quality of life to the individuals being served. Projects like these help our engineering students realize that their vocation is a calling from God - through engineering we can bring His love to a broken world."

For more information on Hope Haven, visit:


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