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Therapeutic Devices Help Former Student Take Steps Toward Recovery

November 27, 2013

Drew Progress

Happy Rider: Drew Christy, a former Rose-Hulman biomedical engineering student, expresses joy while riding the iHorse Simulator, one of three equine therapeutic devices developed by biomedical engineering students during the 2012-13 school year for the Hope Haven Horse Farm in nearby Hendricks County. Students are currently developing other projects this school year. (Photo by Chris Minnick)

Small steps in physical therapy sessions are big steps forward in Drew Christy’s recovery from traumatic brain injuries incurred in a 2008 automobile accident—thanks to the continued support of Rose-Hulman students, faculty, and staff members.

Given a 1 percent survival rate by physicians, the former Rose-Hulman biomedical engineering student is now able to “walk” more than one mile while assisted by a robotic device at a neuro spinal rehabilitation center.

“Every day is a special day because Drew is with us,” says his mother, Debbi. “We count our blessings every day.”

Drew, his parents, Debbi and Mark, and grandmother, Lana Schimpf, were special guests at Rose-Hulman’s Community Service Luncheon. He waved and acknowledged the help he has received from student projects during his recovery.

His success at walking has been assisted by three equine therapeutic devices developed by biomedical engineering students for the Hope Haven Horse Farm, located in nearby Hendricks County. The iHorse Simulator, a high-tech version of a horse’s torso, has helped develop leg and hip muscles. The Stable-izer, an electronic eyeglass warning system that detects a rider’s saddle movements, has improved posture stability. Meanwhile, a therapeutic saddle provides back, hand, and leg support for riders.

“The devices have been fabulous for Drew and other Hope Haven clients. He really enjoys the independence that riding provides him,” says Debbi.

The improved physical strength and confidence has moved to more intensive therapy in Indianapolis. As seen in this video, Drew was able to "walk" with assistance from the Lokomat robotics device.

Now, other student teams are developing devices to help Drew keep his head up and assist other Hope Haven clients. They’re working with biomedical engineering faculty mentors Renee Rogge, Kay C Dee, and Glen Livesay.

Currently under development is a device that integrates Drew’s love of music with a motivational tool that encourages keeping his head in an upright position. As his head goes down to his chest, the music volume decreases. The music goes back to normal when his head is returned upright.


Back On Campus: Mark Christy, Drew’s father, talks with Rose-Hulman Biomedical Engineering Professor Renee Rogge during the institute’s Community Service Luncheon. The Christy family was special guest at this year’s event. (Photo by Dale Long)

“Drew loves music and the new device should further enhance his neck and shoulder area,” Debbi says. “Currently, I’ve been turning the volume of the music in the room up and down to motivate him. His head perks right back up when the music is down.”

Rogge, the Samuel F. Hulbert Chair of Biomedical Engineering, says, “There are so many ways our students can use their skills to help others. I got several more ideas just was spending time with Drew and his parents today. Our students love working with Drew. They can see a direct result from what they’ve been learning in the classroom.”

Rose-Hulman President James C. Conwell says the equine therapy projects are excellent examples of hands-on learning experiences that improve the community.

“These are incredibly creative and powerful solutions that provide transformative experiences for our students, and clearly, transformative experiences for the people who benefit from them,” he told The Terre Haute Tribune-Star.