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Girl Scout group's invention enables Georgia tot to write

Thursday, March 24, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: jennifer punch
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Selling cookies, wearing badge-bearing sashes - and designing a prosthetic hand.

Those are the expected - and quite unexpected - activities of an Ames-based Girl Scouts group known as the Flying Monkeys. The group of six girls, ages 11 to 13, won the state Innovation Award from the FIRST Lego League, an international organization that holds an annual competition for child inventors, for a creating a device that allows 3-year-old Danielle Fairchild to write.
Danielle was adopted by Fred and Dale Fairchild of Duluth, Ga. She has no fingers on her right hand. Although Flying Monkeys member Kate Murray, 13, has never met Fairchild, she knows her struggles. Kate was born with a thumb but no fingers on her left hand. Despite that condition, she began playing the violin five years ago using a device that clips to the bow and wraps around her left palm.

The group decided to make a similar device for the Lego League competition (this year's event asked participants to design something to heal the human body). After posting messages on websites with information on limb abnormalities, the team received many responses, including one about Danielle.
"She was really cute, and we wanted to help her," said Gaby Dempsey, 11.

Inspired by Kate's violin device, the team went to work.

"We got started by making paper prototypes," said Courtney Pohlen, 11.

The group visited an occupational therapist and a prosthetics manufacturer for advice. Designing replacement fingers proved too difficult, so the team instead focused on an attachment.

"Rather than re-create fingers she didn't have, they just worked with what she did have," said Melissa Murray, the Flying Monkeys' mentor. She is Kate's mother.
The device - made out of a moldable plastic - features a pencil holder and a Velcro strap to attach the pencil holder to Danielle's hand. It was called "Bob 1."

"We didn't have anything else to call it," Kate said.

Bob 1 was sent to Fairchild in November. It was successful initially but later cracked. The team then produced "Bob 1.2" - a stronger, better-designed model that Fairchild is using now.

"It takes trial and error to make a prosthetic," Gaby said.
Dale Fairchild, Danielle's adopted mother, said Danielle has taken to the Bob, and is making up for developmental time she lost before it arrived.

"The first time she used it she said, 'I used my other hand, I used my other hand.' She was so excited," Fairchild said.

Using the Bob has also caused Danielle to have increased dexterity with her right hand, even when not employing the device. Before, Fairchild said, Danielle would use the hand like a flipper, but now she is able to use it to grasp and carry objects.
The Flying Monkeys are pursuing a patent on the device.

Melissa Murray is amazed by her charges ("I couldn't have fathomed doing something like this when I was that age," she said) and assures that the design and execution was theirs.

"The kids do the work," she said. "As mentors, our job is to help guide them; to make them think about what they're doing. These are their designs, and we were just there to help them on the way."

Having won the Iowa competition for the FIRST Lego League, the Flying Monkeys are hoping to advance to the North American competition in May in Carlsbad, Calif. To do so, the team will need to earn a spot from the Lego League judges and raise money for the trip. The latter effort was under way Wednesday as the group sold cookies at Valley West Mall in West Des Moines.
"One woman just loved the idea and wrote us a check for $200," Melissa Murray said.

Though none of the group members has met Danielle, they did get to see photos of Bob 1 in action.

"We got to see a little girl write for the first time in her life," Courtney said.

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