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An Able Invention, with heart

January 2010

Tom Jackson is a stubborn old South Dakotan. Suffering a stroke that left him unable to enjoy his favorite pastime -fishing - he refused to stay home and take it easy. Instead, he was back at the pond casting and reeling with his remaining functional hand. Trouble was, he couldn't grip and reel simultaneously. In one fishing season, Jackson lost 13 poles, landed in the pond 13 times, and endured 13 scoldings from his wife when he came home sopping wet.

When Jackson set out to find yet another fishing pole for his 14th attempt, granddaughter Carrie Gillies began formulating a plan to help him out. As a student in St. Ambrose's Master of Occupational Therapy program, she decided to adapt a pole specifically for her grandfather's needs as part of her assistive technology course.

"I try to teach my students that anything is possible," says Jon Turnquist, assistant professor and director of Ambrose's Assistive Technology Lab. "One just has to find-or make-the right solution. Carrie was aware of devices that could help to hold a fishing pole, but her grandfather had other problems as well."

Indeed, casting, holding, reeling, tying the knot and cutting the line all presented challenges for a one-handed angler. But Carrie persevered.

"We learn how important it is to enable leisure activities for our patients," she says. "It means quality of life for them. Grandpa had learned how to dress himself and do daily activities, but wasn't able to do the one thing he loved. With Jon's guidance, I was able to create the 'Angler Able Arm' for him."

Carrie's pole features four unique design characteristics that adapt it for her grandfather's particular needs. An attached cork keeps hooks and lures handy, while a power magnet keeps a cutter or utility knife available to cut the line. Features also allow for one-handed lure changing, knot tying, and reeling.

"Grandpa" and Turnquist weren't the only ones impressed with Carrie's ingenuity. She was one of three students from around the country-joining 12 previous Ambrose students and Turnquist himself-to win the prestigious Maddak Award for product design at the American Occupational Therapy Association conference in 2009.

"Our students create amazing designs for the greater community, allowing people with disabilities to live as independently as possible," Turnquist says. "Equipment from our Assistive Technology Lab can be found from Woodstock, Ill., to Ecuador and Brazil. Sometimes it's as simple as helping a patient control her own TV or phone. It makes all the difference to quality of life."

-S. Flansburg


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