With RBC Tools, A Casey Serves a Family Member in Crisis

 

At Red Bank Catholic, the tradition of giving is in the DNA of what it means to be a Casey.  Giving to others, the community, and giving back to those who have loved, supported and encouraged us.  We see this in the actions of our students every day, in ways both big and small.  The work of senior Savannah Isacson’s Capstone Project is an extraordinary example of how this giving can make a real and lasting impression on those who need it most.

In January of Savannah’s junior year, her beloved Aunt Lydia was suddenly hospitalized.  Just a few weeks prior, at Christmas, Lydia was laughing and playing games with family, and now she was fighting for her life.  Savannah’s aunt was battling sepsis, a condition in which the body’s response to an underlying infection is to attack itself.  To keep the infection from destroying vital organs, Lydia’s heart went into hyperdrive, stopping blood flow from her extremities, including her hands and feet.  As a result, the nerves in her hand died, causing her hands to be frozen in a fist, hard as plastic and blackened.  Though her life was saved, Lydia lost the use of her hands entirely.  “It truly is a miracle that she survived,” recalls Savannah.  “We didn’t think she was going to make it but she pulled through.  Unfortunately, the price she paid for her life was her hands.”

Savannah was devastated by her aunt’s condition and felt compelled to help.  After discovering a passion for engineering from the CADD (Computer Aided Drafting and Design) Programming class she’d taken at RBC, Savannah was inspired to use what she’d learned to build something that might give her aunt some of the mobility she’d lost.  “I fell in love with engineering after my CADD class with Mr. Nesci.  I realized I wanted to spend my life building things.  When my aunt lost her hands, I felt this incredible motivation and knew that I had the tools to help her.”

Savannah had planned to do her senior Capstone project on architecture but with Lydia as her inspiration, and with the support of her teacher Bryan Nesci, she decided to pivot and instead focus on bio medicine with a focus on prosthetics.  She discovered an organization called Project Enable that helps people with disabilities live full and independent lives.  Through Enable, Savannah was connected with a network of people that share open source plans to 3-D print moveable limbs.  Using RBC’s own 3-D printers in the CADD Lab, Savannah created a device that she hoped would give her aunt a little bit of normalcy.

The first prototype she made was put together quickly and with the primary goal of helping Lydia to feed herself. After multiple revisions, based on how Lydia was able to work them, another model was finished that included a powerful magnet that swivels, allowing Lydia to use the hand for a variety of tasks and attachments.  Says Savannah, “Though it was initially designed for the sole purpose of allowing my aunt to feed herself, we quickly realized that it can be used for so much more. That same design has allowed my aunt the ability to text, brush her teeth and her hair. Within minutes, she figured out how to use them.”

Though incredibly proud of what she has done for her aunt, Savannah has plans for more.  She has spent every lunch period since February in the CADD lab at RBC with Mr. Nesci, tweaking her models.  According to Savannah, “What we have created so far is great, but we want to go one step further and create a fully-functioning mechanical hand. The hope for this model is for it to be motion detected so that as Lydia moves, certain muscles in her arms cause the hands to open and close…Although we can never give my aunt back everything that she has lost, through this project we are hoping to give her back some independence and help ease her way back into living a normal life.”

After the successful partnership with Project Enable, Savannah also has goals to expand her work for other interested Caseys now and in the future, and hopefully start an Enable chapter at RBC.  Says Savannah, “Helping my aunt was the first goal of this project, but I don’t want to stop there. Through Enable, I hope to engage other students who are interested in this aspect of engineering and connect them with people who need our assistance.  I would love for this work to continue after I graduate, for future students to follow my footsteps, and for me to be able to continue to help RBC through my own work in college and beyond.”

While the spirit of service is everywhere at Red Bank Catholic, what makes the school so special are the opportunities it provides students to find their own unique way to contribute.  “RBC offers its students so many ways to serve but using the 3-D printers and what I learned in CADD was a way for me to give back using my own passion and talents.  I was given the support and space to work so that I could use my skills to help others,” says Savannah.   “Everyone at this school has been so encouraging of my project, from Mr. Nesci, who has been with me every step of the way, shares my enthusiasm, and constantly motivates me, to [Principal] Mrs. Falco, who enthusiastically offered me use of the computer design lab over the summer whenever I needed it.  They have all encouraged me and given me the confidence that I could be of service to my aunt and others.”  Mrs. Falco adds, “I am so proud of Savannah, her Casey spirit, and her selfless drive to put others first. Savannah has kept a positive outlook looking for solutions for her aunt in a time of need. The world needs more students like Savannah.”

The Casey Fund supports academic innovation and makes projects like Savannah’s possible. One of Red Bank Catholic’s priorities is to continue to fund educational experiences that give Caseys the faculty support, technology, and creative opportunity they need to make their vision a reality.

 

 

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