Apr 122009
Authors: Bryan Schiele

Lizzie Bell knows needles.

For almost her entire 14-year life, she has been subject to bi-weekly visits to the hospital. With each visit doctors poke and prod, jamming needles under her skin, searching for a vein strong enough to use. And, when they finally find one, the burning sensation of a blood transfusion begins.

At 6 weeks old, Bell was diagnosed with Diamond Blackfan Anemia, a rare blood disorder affecting fewer than 700 people in the entire world. Patients with DBA are unable to produce red blood cells, the main transporters of oxygen to organs in the body.

Regular blood transfusions are the only way DBA patients can maintain a healthy level of red blood cells.

Bell needed almost constant medical care and assistance growing up, especially as an infant and young child. Bell’s mother, Kathy Bell, said she visited the hospital anywhere from one to three times a week and would sometimes stay for an entire week.

So, when, almost 14 years ago, Lizzie Bell was finally offered a faint glimmer of normalcy in the form of a bright red radio flyer wagon, it was no surprise that it came in the hospital.

“The movement of the wagon made Lizzie happy and normal,” Kathy Bell said.

The wagon, in spite of being not much more than a child’s plaything, helped Lizzie Bell move around the hospital with relative ease while still allowing her to be hooked up to a blood bag, IV and oxygen tubes.

However, it was not designed for hospital use and Kathy Bell said it was difficult to maneuver with all the medical equipment.

With some research, Kathy Bell contacted Angie Potter, a pediatric nurse who is the founder and president of MedWagon, a company that sells retrofitted radio flyer wagons — almost 500 in the last eight years, Potter said — with an IV pole attachment to help children and families move around in hospitals with ease.

Recently, however, radio flyer discontinued the wagon model Potter uses for MedWagon, a roadblock that left Potter wanting to create a new, original wagon — one that wouldn’t have to be changed each time a model was discontinued. She informed Kathy Bell of her desire to create something completely original, and that is where a CSU research team comes in.

CSU Mechanical Engineering Professor Anthony Marchese said he met Kathy Bell at Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses. Marchese’s 3-year-old son Sam also has DBA.

With firsthand knowledge of the struggles that children and their families face when dealing with regular hospital visits, Marchese said he jumped on board and agreed to help in the design process for an original wagon.

“Anything to make kids feel like they are not in a hospital is a good thing,” Marchese said.

The design team is made up of Marchese and senior engineering students Jason Gott and Wes Cravens.

The team has been working on designing the new wagon since the semester began. Marchese said by the end of the semester they hope to “produce a detailed set of engineering drawings that may be manufactured.”

The design is being kept secret, but Gott said the wagon will be more versatile and give the medical community what it needs.

“It’s a great way for me to give back to the community and reach out to kids, parents, doctors and nurses to see what was needed,” Gott said.

“We are coming up with something radically different,” Marchese said. “It will look like a toy but will actually be designed from the ground up for use in the hospital.”

Cravens said the wagon will be able to accommodate for different-sized children in addition to all the medical equipment such as IV pumps, oxygen and blood bags.

Potter said the design’s teamwork and true passion for the project means “a tremendous amount.”

“I think it is a worthy product and a needed product,” Potter said. “The goal is that every pediatric hospital in the country, even the world, can have one of these wagons.”

And although Lizzie Bell, now 14, is too old to use the newly designed wagon, Kathy Bell said the fact that it will help other children and families in the future that motivates everyone involved.

“You know how painful it is to wait for help,” Kathy Bell said. “When you finally find it, it’s about how fast you can jump on making this happen for someone else, and we found our engineer.”

Staff writer Bryan Schiele can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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