BU students give girl with crippling disease gift of mobility

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) A group of Baylor engineering students Friday surprised Emmeline Pope, a North Texas toddler who has a crippling and potentially fatal disease, with a custom-designed wheelchair that will allow her to move around for the first time.

Emmaline Pope and her mother Jenny with the seven students who designed the custom wheelchair. (Photo by Erin Zeller)

"I know they put a lot of themselves into the work and that means so much to me as a mom, that is a labor of love,” Emmeline’s mother, Jenny Pope, said.

“Having a chair like this will help her move around and is huge for her and her life and her development," she said.

Emmeline, 2, was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a sometimes fatal disease that causes her muscles to deteriorate.

"We were told she'd never eat, never walk, eventually she'd lose the ability to breathe and she'd pass away by the age of 2,” her mother said.

Emmaline has been receiving injections of Spinraza, the only FDA-approved drug to treat SMA, and Pope said it has turned things around for the family.

“Everything has been working out the opposite way, she’s been getting better and she’s just a blessing to our lives,” she said.

The parents said their next concern was finding a way to for Emmeline to get around.

"Mobility at age 2 is something most people take for granted,” Pope said.

"The only power mobility available for children her size is adult size equipment with tiny little seats."

She said Emmeline isn’t strong enough to propel herself in a normal wheelchair, and other electric wheelchairs are very heavy and difficult to transport.

The seven Baylor Engineering Design students worked with the family to design and build an electric wheelchair that was affordable, lightweight, easy to use, and sized to fit a toddler.

"We carefully put those different features into our plan and design so we have something that actually meets her needs,” senior Sean Martin said.

The Pope family drove Friday to Waco from Burleson to meet the students at the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative building.

"Emmeline seems to enjoy the chair. It's very satisfying working long hours on something and seeing it come to fruition,” Martin said.

Martin graduated in May with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, and he said he found his purpose while working on this project.

"If I could do this for a living and make devices that directly help people, I could do that for the rest of my life," he said.

The other engineering students in Sean Martin’s group were Nate Freeman, Alicia Magee, Andrew Bryan, Kyle Kieser, Thomas Fiaoni, and Robert Schmitz.