ALLENDALE, Mich. (WOOD) — Engineering students at Grand Valley State University are doing more than just preparing themselves for the workforce; they’re changing lives.
At 18 months old, Lylah Gritter has a new freedom she has never experienced before and would not be able to have on her own. She is unable to hold up her own weight due to the devastating effects of spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that depletes muscle strength.
But with a small joystick, Lylah is now able to cruise around and take in her surroundings riding in what engineering students call her new “play and mobility device.”
“We don’t know what life is going to bring for her. We know that so far she’s defied the odds. She’s strong. She’s happy. She’s doing everything she’s not supposed to do, which is great,” Lylah’s mother Holly Gritter said.
Lylah’s world changed when a small group of GVSU students got involved with a special project made possible by a National Science Foundation grant. They listened to doctors and physical therapists describe what Lylah faces and her inability move freely because of her muscle weakness. Then they went to work designing a way to make mobility happen.
GVSU student Tyler Kramer said there the project turned into much more than just a long list of specifications to take into consideration.
“At the end of the day, this took multiple sleepless nights and a lot of banging your head, but at the end of the day just looking at here and smiling is definitely the biggest reward I’ve had so far in life,” he said.
Dustin Martin, who also worked on the project, said it’s an experience that not changed not only Lylah’s life, but also his.
“My dreams in my head for going to school and getting this degree, I’m going to invent something or I’m going to change a product the better to see how much monetary value I can get out of it or what kind of money gain I’m going to get. And after working with this project, it’s worth way more than any amount of money they could pay me just to help somebody out to have a better life,” Martin said.
Holly Gritter said she couldn’t be more appreciative. The students have given Lylah something that most kids take for granted: The ability to simply play, especially with her brother.
“To see them interact in a way is so rewarding for us. She chases him around. It’s so great,” Gritter said.
If you’d like to help Lylah, there is a fundraiser coming up. It’s scheduled for March 5 at White Flame Brewing Company in Hudsonville. Brewers there have even created a special “Lylah” beer for the occasion.