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'An incredible gift': Students invent wheelchair stroller for teacher's husband

The students said they were happy to work on a project that made a difference in their community.
/ Source: TODAY

Several high school students in Maryland took home two international prizes after developing an accessible wheelchair stroller for their teacher's husband.

The 10 students at Bullis High School in Potomac, Maryland developed two products which allow a person in a wheelchair to walk their child in a stroller. The first product, designed for newborns and small children, attaches a carseat to a wheelchair, and the second, created for older children, uses 3D-printed equipment to attach a stroller to a wheelchair itself.

One option connects a car seat to a wheelchair.
One option connects a car seat to a wheelchair. Courtesy Matt Zigler

Chelsie King, whose husband Jeremy has had "significant balance issues" following a surgery to remove a brain tumor three years ago, told TODAY that she spoke to her fellow teacher Matt Zigler about developing a product that would allow Jeremy to walk their child when she found out they were expecting.

"Over the last few years we've kind of navigated his new adaptability and last summer when we found that we were expecting that introduced a whole new set of challenges," King said. "Parenting is hard enough, but when you have a physical disability, especially one that is still fairly new ... We immediately started researching things to find ways to make parenting accessible for Jeremy, and honestly we didn't come up with a lot."

King said that she quickly thought of Zigler's "Making for Social Good" class, which focuses on designing products that benefit society at large. Zigler said that the schedule of the class aligned "almost exactly" with King's due date.

"It's been amazing," said Zigler. "This has been the most successful of the projects that we've done in the three years that I've taught this class, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that it was somebody in our community and so the students were really motivated to just keep trying and keep testing out different ideas and design and redesign ... I think the fact that the students knew it was going to be used, made it more real for them, and they knew because it was going to be used, it had to be good."

The second product connects a wheelchair to a stroller.
The second product connects a wheelchair to a stroller. Courtesy Matt Zigler

One student in the class, Ibenka Espinoza, told TODAY that she was excited to help the teacher she'd known since middle school.

"I was like, 'I need to help Ms. King,'" said Espinoza. "I've heard a lot of wonderful things about her, and I wasn't that close with her but ... I've heard from other people about how wonderful she is and how she's very uplifting and gives off happy vibes. Immediately I just had to come up with something to help her out."

King said that she and her husband were able to start using the wheelchair car seat attachment within days of their son being born.

"Just being able to see Jeremy have that independence with our son was something really incredible," King said. "Parenting can be really scary for anybody, but we had a set of challenges ahead of us that we're still navigating as our son grows. ... It's really special to be able to get outside and share a walk together as a family, so the gratitude that we both felt having it dropped off and being able to use it going forward has been just a really incredible gift."

The class went on to win two awards at the 2021 Make:able 3D Printing Challenge, which is an international competition that Zigler said he entered early in the year. The challenge focused on developing a product for someone with mobility issues, making it the perfect fit for the project with Kings.

Jewel Walker, who worked with some classmates on the car seat attachment product, said that it was an honor to be recognized by the competition while making a material impact on King's family.

"It's been great, because you've seen the work that you put into the project pay off it, and you've made a difference in someone's life," Walker said. "That's all one could ask for. It's great to see that we put in the work and see it actually succeed and do very well and make a difference."

Jacob Zlotnitsky, who worked with Espinoza and several other students to develop the wheelchair stroller product, said that he was much more invested in the project than most other assignments.

"It's pretty fulfilling, to say the least," Zlotnitsky said. "In high school you take a lot of classes and you don't take much out of it other than what you learn from those classes that you'll build upon next year, but in this class and through this project I was able to help a person, which is not something you usually are able to do in a high school class."

Zigler said that he's already received inquiries about the project from others with disabilities: A parent of a military veteran with a new child recently called him to ask about information about making either of the designs. Both products were designed to not be costly to make at home with the help of a 3D printer, and Zigler said he's compiling instructions and a video that will help people build them.

"This is going to be new territory for us," Zigler said. "... It'll be interesting if over time we keep getting requests and some of those students get to come back into the lab to build another one."