They created a computer station — and changed a quadriplegic patient’s life

Students Dustin Mays and Evan Amabile with Derrick Bayard at his home in Richmond.

Before dawn on Aug. 8, 2017, Derrick Bayard began having severe pain in his abdomen, followed by body spasms. Soon after, it became hard to breathe. He was home alone, a detail made exponentially more important — and dangerous — by the fact that he’s a quadriplegic, unable to use his hands and feet. Bedridden.

“I thought I could wait it out, but the pain was getting progressively worse and no one else would get here until 9 a.m.,” Bayard said.

So, using his head tracking mouse to press keys on the laptop monitor mounted above his bed, Bayard got on Facebook to see if any of his friends were online at such an early hour. He found three: one in West Virginia, one in New York and one in Richmond. They sent emergency help to Bayard’s Richmond home, but he couldn’t let first responders inside. One of them saw Bayard through a back window, but couldn’t gain access. A rescue team eventually broke through Bayard’s front window and transported him to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. He was treated for a urinary tract infection, a common and potentially life-threatening ailment for quadriplegic patients.

Bayard is familiar with VCU for several reasons. It is the health system from which he has received primary care for more than 20 years. It is also where Dustin Mays, Lars Hofland and Evan Amabile attend graduate school in the School of Allied Health Professions’ Department of Occupational Therapy. This past spring, the three students built a customized computer table for Bayard’s laptop monitor. If the monitor had been anywhere else, and not tilted perfectly above him, Bayard would have lost precious time summoning assistance.

“It took me less than a minute to send for help,” he said. “If I just had [the computer] sitting somewhere else, it would have taken [longer] depending on what position I was in.”

Lack of dexterity has been a longtime nemesis for 56-year-old Bayard. Forty years ago he was felled by a bullet to the neck that was intended for someone else. He was paralyzed instantly. Like most people, he uses his computer for everyday tasks such as accessing the internet and social media. A few years ago, however, he began developing pressure ulcers on his elbows and chest, because he used them to prop himself up while laying on his stomach to face his computer screen. At the time, there was no way his laptop could be tilted above him. Bayard’s home attendant at the time, Latoya Harvey, wasn’t able to configure a way to keep the laptop steady enough for Bayard to use while on his side. It occasionally toppled onto him in bed.

Enter a team of VCU students with a $10 budget and an idea.

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