Reprinted by the Nanaimo Chapter of The Tetra Society

Technical expertise improves quality of life

By Jean Compton
The News Bulletin

  Thursday. March 31st 2005

Four and a half years ago, a 2,700-kilogram cedar snag fell on Ron Kennedy, leaving the logger severely injured, but lucky to be alive. He faced two years in hospital waiting for back surgery to insert rods and bolts in his back and another 2 years to recover.

Kennedy couldn't go back to falling, but he was motivated to work and his expertise in repairing chain saws was needed by his employer, Fedje and Gunderson logging contractors. But due to his injuries, Kennedy wasn't able to pull the starter cord to start a saw. That's where Tetra came into the picture.

Tetra is an organization that matches volunteer skilled engineers and technicians with people needing assistive devices. Worker's Compensation Vocational Rehabilitation consultant Ken Crystal had contacted Tetra to help Kennedy with his dilemma.

"There are 90 to 100 Tetra volunteers in the province. When we have challenging cases, we consult them," said Crystal.

Tetra volunteer Al Herle, a civil engineer in Nanaimo, took on the challenge.

"It was a tricky one," admits Herle, who went through several prototypes.

His idea was to modify a drill to connect with the pinions inside the flywheel of the chainsaw starter mechanism.

It had to have a lot of torque and function equally well in reverse.

Herle worked in collaboration with Emil Sorensen, a retired heavy-duty mechanics instructor.

Sorensen took an old car starter-motor drive, adapting it to fit the flywheel and attaching it to the end of the drill.

There was excitement in the air the day Kennedy was to try out the new device.

Herle, Sorensen and Crystal were there, as well as kinesiologist Brent Armstrong.

"If it works, it could help a lot of guys," said Crystal.

With the chainsaw clamped to the workbench, Kennedy was able to hold the drill with both hands and insert it into the flywheel. But there was too much jarring for Kennedy to sustain the action.

Everyone agreed that a brace was needed. Temporarily using a metal rod as a brace confirmed their theory and everyone was satisfied that the device could be further adapted to work for Kennedy.

This is just one of the scenarios where Tetra volunteers are working to make a big difference in people's lives, often with simple devices.

Herle got involved with Tetra after helping a paraplegic friend by designing a collapsible mini wheelchair that could be used on a sea kayak.

"I like inventing gadgets," he says, "and it gives me personal satisfaction to do something that is actually useful, that you know will benefit someone."

Herle says Tetra is careful not to compete with commercially available products. But there is a gap on the market, especially for products that may not be deemed medically necessary, but which could make a big difference to quality of life.

If you know of someone who could use a custom-designed gadget or if you would like to volunteer your technical expertise or knowledge of occupational therapy, please call Lisa Schultz at 250- 754-3576