Getting kids on their feet

Dec 2, 2005

A Kettering professor has been instrumental in making dreams come true for hundreds of handicapped kids and their families.

His work has been seen on the national television show "Extreme Makeover Home Edition," but he's only a household name in certain houses. That doesn't bother Gary Hammond, professor of Mechanical Engineering at Kettering University. He gets all the accolades he needs from the kids who benefit from his work with Davis Made Inc. of Flint, Mich.

Davis Made makes the Standing Dani Wheelstand, a mobile prone stander for children with special needs. The device was featured on the Sunday, Nov. 20, edition of the ABC makeover show.

Hammond machines all the custom parts for every Standing Dani made, which adds up to about 100 per year, according to Dan Davis, owner and founder of Davis Made.
"The metal machine parts are all Gary," Davis said.

"When you see these kids able to stand upright for maybe the first time on their own," said Hammond, "that's all the reward you need." Hammond has been working with Davis since the late 1980s when Davis approached Kettering University's (then General Motors Institute) Business and Industrial Development (BID) Center with an idea he had for an adapted wheelchair for his daughter Danielle, who was born with cerebral palsy.

"They really helped get Davis Made started," said Davis. "I worked in model shop at the university with a machinist to perfect a prototype and a student helped with applying for a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institutes of Health in 1987. GMI and the University of Michigan helped to develop prototypes and get the product to market," Davis said.

In addition to Hammond, Dr. Henry Kowalski, professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Dale Eddy, staff lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, were involved in getting Davis Made off the ground. Kowalski headed the BID Center and performed much of the testing necessary for FDA approval of the Standing Dani as a medical device, and Hammond and Eddy did most of the Computer Aided Design (CAD) work for the various components.

Davis was an hourly worker at General Motors in Flint when he started his business. He was able to quit GM in 1992 to run Davis Made full time.

Hammond has been involved with the Standing Dani from the earliest concepts, to the CAD drawings and now as the primary machinist for custom metal parts for each unit. He even bought a lightly used Haas VF2 Computer Numerical Control (CNC) vertical mill that can be pre-programmed to make 50 different parts for his backyard machine shop.

CNC mills like Hammond's are usually found in manufacturing facilities, not in private machine shops. "I found it on Ebay at a really good price" said Hammond. "Since it was only eight miles from my home I had the chance to go see it before buying it. It ran well, so I bought it on the spot," he said.

Buying on the spot put Hammond on the spot. He had to renovate his home shop in three days to accommodate the giant mill, including building walls, hanging drywall and painting. "It was like 'Extreme Makeover' for a machine shop," he said.

The Standing Dani featured on ABC's "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" was built for William Johnson, the youngest child of Tripp and Heidi Johnson of Massachusetts. William was born in 1999 with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and was told he wouldn't live past two. He is now six.

"In this case we had a day to design and build a special latch," said Hammond of the Standing Dani for William. "Jason and Dan Davis had modified most of Gunnell's seat system to fit the unit, but needed a special clamp/release mechanism," he said referring to Jason Carr, a Kettering senior whose co-op employer is Gunnell, Inc., a company that specializes in custom wheelchairs including adjustable seating.

Carr and Davis showed up at Hammond's shop in the evening asking him to help design the custom parts needed for William's Standing Dani. Hammond had to machine them that same evening, since the unit had to be finished by the next morning. "Nothing like pressure," Hammond said.

"The Extreme Makeover people couldn't have chosen a better family to give the Standing Dani to and help make their house accessible," said Davis. "William Johnson is a happy child, a normal kid who accepts his disability as just a part of who he is," he added.

As William grows, his Standing Dani will grow with him. There are currently two sizes, one for smaller children and then a second that fits people up to 5'7" tall. "We are working on power Dani's for adults," said Davis, "but because their center of gravity is so high, we could make a bigger one that would be stable but it would be so wide at the base it would not fit through the average doorway," he said.

Davis Made employs 10 people full time including Davis. All the units are hand built. Davis is currently moving the business to a new location on Davison Road in Flint, near Delphi. "That will be my next building," he joked - sort of. Davis would like the business to grow enough to require a large manufacturing space. He'd also like to make it a family affair.

He started making the Standing Dani for his daughter Dani, who was born with cerebral palsy. Dani is now 30 years old, and a special education teacher at Southwest High School in Flint. Davis' second daughter is a pediatric physical therapist, whose "knowledge from being Dani's sister is being put to use," Davis said.


More About Standing Dani

The Standing Dani Wheelstand is a mobile prone stander for children with special needs. It is designed to assist children with medical conditions that render them unable to ambulate without assistance to realize upright mobility. The Standing Dani Wheelstand supports a child with special needs in the optimal, upright position, eye-level with playmates, with hands free to interact with playmates. The child is securely supported in the prone position with the ability to initiate movement. Comfortable postural supports on the Standing Dani? Wheelstand enable the child to enjoy social activities that require eye-hand coordination.

The Standing Dani Wheelstand helps achieve the proven benefits of dynamic weight bearing through the lower extremities, such as strengthening of the bones, joint development, stretching of the ankle, knee, hip flexors and abdominal muscles are realized when using a wheelstand. Functions such as respiration and digestion are also enhanced while upright. Incidences of constipation and bladder infection are reduced when standing is a part of the daily regimen.

Consisting of two primary components; a wheeled base frame and an attached prone board, the Standing Dani Wheelstand has dozens of interchangeable positioning components with limitless combinations to permit many possibilities. The Standing Dani Wheelstand fits children from three to five and a half feet tall. The smaller Sprout Wheelstand fits children from two to four and a half feet tall.

DavisMade, Inc, pioneered pediatric upright mobility with the first of several patents issued in 1985 for the wheelstand design. Continuous design improvements are regularly retrofitted and incorporated onto production models. To date, more than 1,100 wheelstands have been delivered nationwide. Davis Made, Inc. always puts the child's needs first.


Written by Dawn Hibbard