HUDSONVILLE, Mich. – A one-year-old girl in Hudsonville is building the strength to move her arms in new ways with the help of two mechanical engineering students at Grand Valley State University who built what they call an “Angel Arms Exoskeleton,” or “Lylah’s Arms.”
Holly Gritter told FOX 17 News that her daughter Lylah was born with spinal muscular atrophy or SMA, known as the number one genetic killer in children two years old and under, with one in 40 people carrying it.
Gritter describes SMA as similar arterial lateral sclerosis or ALS, but in children. Lylah was born at 39 weeks with no signs of any trouble until at about three months old she began to lose strength fast.
Lylah turns two this August, and her mother calls her smart, sassy, and determined. For Lylah to color and hold her blue crayon on her own is something that gives her family hope.
“For her to say, ‘I color, – okay, you can color,’” said Gritter, “it’s just such a great feeling, especially from a year ago when we didn’t think she was even going to survive.”
A strong-willed little girl, Lylah can move her hands and forearms. But since April, after two graduate GVSU mechanical engineering students created “Angel Arm Exoskeleton” for Lylah, she is strengthening muscles she could not use on her own before.
GVSU students Joseph Kissling and Brooks Schaefer tailored the exoskeleton to Lylah and then used a 3D printer to build the exoskeleton for about $300, with FDA-approved plastic and parts from stores. That would be extremely expensive using any other technique.
“Instead of making it very specific, very complicated, we took a step back and simplified it,” said Kissling. “We made it so that anybody can get hold of it, anybody can use it.”
Kissling and Schaefer said they plan to make their design available for anyone in need to plug-in their own measurements and then help them find a 3D printer to make the exoskeleton at an affordable price.
“For me, it was a reaffirmation of what you’ve really decided to do with your life, why you’ve decided to deal with all the ugly parts of math,” said Kissling. “At the end, you really want to help people.”
Lylah’s family is forever thankful for her independence.
“We say a lot, ‘Never give up.’ As parents, that’s what you do for your children,” said Gritter. “Whatever we can do to help her and make her feel like everybody else, that’s what we do. For her to have her freedom of mobility is our future for her: drive a wheelchair, to use her arms.”
“We really are thankful for every single day,” said Gritter. “Every day we feel lucky that we’re still together as a family.”
Lylah’s family continues to seek to raise awareness of SMA. You can keep in touch with them through their Facebook page: Prayers for Lylah.
GVSU students Kissling and Schaefer entered the 5 x 5 Nights competition for a grant, which they said they would use to get their product to market. The public can vote for “Angel Arms Exoskeleton” until July 28 on the competition website.