Mechatronics students help to make Paralympics a possibility

Shaun Gillham

HAVING been confined to a wheelchair for most of his life, paraplegic Shane Louw of Nelson Mandela Bay is facing a new lease on life and the thrilling prospect of competing in the Paralympic Games.

Louw, 26, who is a resident at Cheshire Home in Summerstrand, was born with cerebral palsy which debilitated him extensively.

But now, backed by a team of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) engineering students and their project leaders, he is set to make great strides in his mobility and even faces the prospect of competing in the 2016 Paralympic Games.

Louw and a number of other delighted Cheshire Home residents were treated to a hi- tech morning of fun when they were visited by members of NMMU’s mechanical engineering department.

The students and their academic management are part of the university’s Advanced Mechatronic Technical Centre (AMTC) which has constructed a solar-powered vehicle named the Photon and an unusual three-wheeled vehicle known as the Fox.

The students – who exhibited these two vehicles at Cheshire Home – will be assisting to redesign Louw’s wheelchair seat for better ergonomics and functionality and also to design and construct a high-tech walking apparatus which will dramatically boost his mobility.

His physiotherapist, Adri Mentz, said she had worked with him for about three years and during October 2011 had noticed a marked improvement in his physical ability.

“During November 2011, Shane got onto his feet for the first time on [a] wooden walker. Last year he competed in the Discovery Big Walk event and managed to walk 3km.

“I have mentioned the Paralympics to him … I will be trying to find out about the physical classification for participation … This idea is highly motivating [for him].”

Louw’s mobility may be vastly improved by August, thanks to the AMTC team and also to mechanical engineering student Claudia Powell who will be designing a walking cradle for him.

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