Dad's home-built trike helps son recover from brain injury
By Ben Coxworth
June 1, 2011
In June of 2008, San Jose, California's Rob Thompson was in a car accident that left him with a traumatic brain injury. Now 22, he still uses a wheelchair, as he is unable to fully control his left arm and leg. He also has difficulties with short term memory and speech. He goes for physical therapy twice a day, and is slowly recovering. Fortunately for Rob, however, his father Dave decided to speed his recovery by creating a therapeutic device that looks like a ton of fun to use - a tandem recumbent/upright tricycle.
Dave Thompson works as a mechanical engineer for a startup medical device company, and is also an avid cyclist.
"Because Rob's physical challenges are brain-related, I thought biking would help make new pathways in the brain so that Rob could walk again," he told Gizmag. "As a cyclist and engineer, I started to research commercially available adaptive tandem bikes to see if I could find one that would fit Rob's needs. I couldn't find anything on the market that seemed suitable. Ones that might have been modified were very expensive and didn't seem like they would work for Rob. I knew Rob wouldn't be able to pedal or steer with his left side, so I thought I could help send the new messages to his brain by pedaling and steering with him."
Dave proceeded to spend the next six months designing and building the trike. As is the case with some commercially-available tandem bicycles, it puts the front passenger in a recumbent position, while the rear passenger sits upright, looking over their head. Not only do both passengers provide the pedaling power, but unlike a conventional tandem, both of them can also steer.
Not only was it hard for Dave to find enough time to build the trike, but he also had to take Rob's changing level of abilities into account, when coming up with the design. The headrest, for example, was essential to Rob at first. Now that his neck strength has improved, however, it's not needed as much. The dual steering is also a feature that didn't come into play originally, as Rob couldn't steer, but his recovery now sees him steering for part of each ride.
"The overall goal is to have Rob be able to ride his own bike," said Dave. "Rob's therapists have all noticed improvement in the strength of his legs, his endurance, and the improved reflex in his legs when he is 'walking.' Besides working on the brain and physical therapy, we're hoping being outside and together as a family will help Rob work on social connections and motivation for therapies. We're also hoping the cardio workout will help Rob practice taking deeper breaths and make his speech more audible. We've seen improvements in all of these areas since he started biking."
Rob, for his part, loves riding the trike. "It's always good to be fit for the ladies," he said with a smile. "It makes me feel good physically and inside, too. I like the fact that I can work out, since I can't run."
"What I've gotten out of it is pure joy," added Dave. "Being able to do something with my son and watching how much he really likes it, gives me pure joy ... a sense of satisfaction of knowing that I literally built something to help my son."
This July, Rob, Dave and their trike will be taking part in the Livestrong Challenge cancer research fundraising ride in Davis, California.
Source: Bicycle Design