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Engineering students create priceless capstone project

By Carole Mikita | Posted - Apr. 19, 2010 at 9:50 p.m.


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OREM -- A young mother from St. George survived a life-threatening infection only to lose part of her legs and hands. After hearing her story, a group of BYU mechanical engineering students invented a way to help and, in return, learned important life lessons.

"They told my family, ‘We don't think she's gonna make it,'" Jeane Taylor says.

In January of 2008, Jeane was suffering from septicemia -- a life-threatening infection. The medication used to save her vital organs also always cuts off the blood supply to extremities.

What is... septicemia?
Septicemia is a serious, life-threatening bacterial infection of the blood that gets worse very quickly. It can arise from an untreated wound or a serious infection. Patients get very ill (fever, chills, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate) and often develop red spots on the skin. If untreated, these gradually get bigger and begin to look like fresh bruises, which join together to form larger areas of purple skin damage and discoloration.

"Luckily, I just lost my fingers and the legs beneath my knees," Jeane says. "I ask, ‘Why me?' but in the sense, ‘Why was I lucky to be able to stay alive?' Because so many people who have this diagnosis, they don't survive."

But then, Jeane says, came reality: How would she be able to care for her two young boys?

A BYU mechanical engineering professor, who lives in the same Orem neighborhood as Jeane's parents and knew of her situation, thought it might make a wonderful capstone project, or final project before graduation.

Team Helping Hands worked for nine months, 30 hours a week, building and designing. They visited Jeane at her St. George home with several prototypes.

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Finally, the team created a prosthetic device that weighs half a pound. Jeane can put it on in less than 10 seconds and grip just about anything she wants to.

The students and their supervisor recently came for one last visit. They say they set out to help, but came away inspired.

"It's really been a life-changing experience for our capstone engineering team, just to see an amazing person overcome such amazing odds just to survive," says Vance Murray, a mechanical engineering major at BYU.

Jeane now has prosthetic legs and feet and is walking again; and for Sam, Nick and their dad, Tony, reading time -- the way it used to be -- has returned.

"I got to stay here with my kids, and that is just about better than anything," Jeane says.

E-mail: cmikita@ksl.com

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Carole Mikita

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