Chapin student’s invention is big step for physical therapy in gait disorders (+ video)

A Chapin High School senior has made remarkable strides toward a successful career in engineering and medical treatment by helping some children make literal strides of their own.

It started with a question that few innovators have addressed: How to help physical therapists better improve the walking patterns of patients with disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, that affect their mobility?

What developed is an answer that no one else had offered before this 18-year-old who won’t even hold his high school diploma for another two weeks.

Jared Adams, an approachable, well-liked student with a broad grin who is bound for Clemson University in the fall, has earned national recognition for developing a gait-correcting device.

In early tests, the device has shown itself to be more effective than traditional methods used in physical therapy and could possibly change the way physical therapists treat many patients.

Nearly two years of research, design and creation led Adams to his latest model of a brace that wraps around both of a patient’s thighs, with a rotating, expandable bar attached in the space between the legs.

For patients whose legs cross over or run into one another as they walk, the first-of-its-kind brace works by progressively separating the legs over the course of therapy sessions while therapists work hands-on to correct other gait mechanics such as foot placement and stride length.

The device helps correct a patient’s gait in two ways – by strengthening and training the leg muscles and by training the mental processes that control walking movements.

“I was very surprised to figure out that (no therapists) had ever seen anything like this, and also that none of them had ever seen anyone try to attack it like this,”Adams said. “There aren’t enough engineers and innovators in the field of rehabilitation and in the field of therapy that are looking for these problems.”

Adams started the project with a challenge by his Chapin engineering teacher, Lisa Maylath, to identify a problem and develop an original solution. So he looked to a familiar field where he recognized a lot of need.

The son of a pediatric physical therapist, Adams had grown up observing his mother, Sharon, treat children with walking disabilities. Adams himself had been treated for a mild gait disorder when he was very young, he said.

“Jared is very willing and wanting to help others and take the time to do that, to come up with something that will help others,” Sharon Adams said. “He asked me, ‘Hey, Mom, what’s a problem that you have when you’re working with kids?’”

She and other therapists explained to him the difficulty they have using their arms and legs to separate patients’ legs to strengthen the muscles while at the same time correcting their standing positions and walking motions.

“I don’t have enough arms or legs to do that,” Sharon Adams said. “He said, ‘Oh, I can come up with something for that.’”

Adams spent months shadowing therapists, researching existing treatment methods and devices, sketching ideas and using trial and error to build two other devices before arriving at the current version of the brace.

“One of the things that I was very impressed with, and this is going to sound weird, but I was impressed with his failure,” Chapin principal Akil Ross said. “Sometimes in school we look at failure as a bad thing ... but he learned so much out of the mistakes and the trials of that project. For a student to say that ‘There’s no problem too big for me,’ I think that’s what I was most impressed about.”

Adams tested the effects of the device in therapy for two child patients, collecting data that showed his brace was three to four times more effective in correcting gait patterns than therapy without the device. “I saw some pretty remarkable things,” Adams said. “It makes you pretty happy whenever something that you designed and something that you made is making a change in somebody’s life.”

Adams has been recognized with numerous local and regional science and engineering awards for his work on the brace. And he recently placed second at the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium competition. He has a provisional patent to protect his concept and design as he continues to make improvements to the device and works to secure a full patent by next spring, a process that’s likely to cost several thousand dollars.

Sharon Adams said, from a professional perspective, she thinks the brace is something that will change the future of physical therapists’ work with patients’ gaits.

Adams would like to see the brace one day be marketed affordably for use both in physical therapy offices and in homes.

Even as he continues to improve on his invention, Adams is preparing to take some new, big steps of his own, as he looks forward to studying biomedical engineering at Clemson this fall and finding the next problem in need of an innovative solution.

“I don’t doubt that I’ll come across something that I’ll want to fix,” Adams said. “There are still things that need to be fixed in this field, and options are open. Just put your mind into it and get working, and solutions will definitely come up.”

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.