— November 20, 2020

MSU engineering students put expertise to work on rehabilitation car for new hospital

Think about the last time you got in your car. Odds are you’ve done it thousands of times without any trouble, but for patients recovering from surgery it can be one of the major hurdles to getting back to normalcy.

McLaren Greater Lansing’s occupational therapy team works with patients to get them back on their feet after surgery, including learning how to get in and out of a vehicle. When McLaren’s new state-of-the-art hospital opens in early 2022, patients will enjoy access to a special simulation vehicle that more closely reproduces the real-world experience of entering and exiting their own car or truck.  The vehicle was developed with the help of mechanical engineering students at Michigan State University, who brought their expertise to bear on the project as part of their capstone class.  The simulation vehicle comprises the front end of a truck and a lift, placed underneath, that allows the cab’s height to be raised or lowered to match that of the patient’s personal vehicle.

The project was made possible thanks in part to a $5,000 grant from the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation, a truck cab donation from General Motors, and the dedication of Deb Slezak, former supervisor of inpatient rehab services at McLaren Greater Lansing, who first had the idea to ask for help tin getting a height-adjustable vehicle for McLaren’s new hospital.

“Many patients facing recovery like orthopedic surgery, trauma, or stroke have concerns about how they are going to get home. Our therapy staff shows them exactly how to get in and out of their vehicle,” said Slezak. “The height-adjustable vehicle will help remove barriers to patients’ feeling as if they are not learning how to enter and exit their own car or truck, which will make them more successful.”

The project marked one of the few opportunities for Michigan State University mechanical engineering students to work on an in-person project this semester, and they were proud to see their accomplishment be raised into the new hospital recently.

“As someone who has had three leg surgeries myself, this is a personal project, so I appreciate how this will help patients,” said Megan Phanrisvong, a Michigan State University mechanical engineering student who worked on the project. “One of the problems we ran into was the weight capacity on our lift, so when we were thinking about taking the doors off, I had to think about my past experience where I used the doors to get in and out of the car a lot when I didn’t have full function of both of my legs.”

Michigan State University mechanical engineering students Alec Bailey (right) and Megan Phanrisvong (left) worked on McLaren’s adjustable height rehabilitation car as part of their capstone class.

“It means a lot to me personally to be able to make a difference in people’s lives as a senior in an engineering field,” said Alec Bailey, one of the five Michigan State University mechanical engineering students who worked on the project. “Everything is classwork at school, so to actually produce something that people are going to be using is an amazing opportunity.”

To learn more about how rehabilitation services at McLaren Greater Lansing can help you, click here. To learn more about how the McLaren Greater Lansing is helping patients, click here.