Link to AISD-TV Video

ABILENE — Early Saturday morning, Hendrick Health System President and CEO Brad Holland pounded out an email to his staff asking them to think outside the box on a couple of issues related to the Coronavirus and how those ideas might help them best respond to patient needs and keep their own doctors and nurses safe.

Included in the email was Hendrick Director of Technology Duane Donaway, who then sent a message to both Abilene ISD Superintendent Dr. David Young and Wylie ISD Superintendent Joey Light asking for the help of the school districts. Donaway asked each if they had someone who might be able to come up with a “solution that would allow doctors or nurses to remote control medicine delivery to a patient in isolation.”

Young then sent a message to Larry Haney — engineering instructor at ATEMS in the AISD — and Light emailed Wylie engineering and science teacher Andy Hope. Both district leaders knew the men they had messaged would tackle the challenge head-on.

Which is exactly what happened.

Haney and ATEMS aerospace engineering teacher Tracy Long met at the ATEMS offices to begin the process of mechanizing one of the hospital bed tables that’s most often used for meal service or as a table to work a crossword puzzle. Haney consulted with (former student) Nolan Henderson and (current ATEMS student) Nathan Bryce on writing the programs that runs the robots, and then he and Long went to work. Hope and his team of students from Wylie immediately went to work on the same project.

“Joey told his group that this was going to be a little bit like figuring out the Apollo 13 mission and that Hendrick needed it as soon as possible” Donaway said. “Soon after those emails went out, we delivered a couple of bed tables to them and they got to work. That evening, I had videos from both groups showing us their working prototypes. Sunday afternoon, after some revisions by both teams, we retrieved the tables and brought them back to the hospital.”

Once back at Hendrick, Zane Dennis — director of facilities — and his team got in touch with Troy Miller form Tiger Manufacturing, and Miller and his team fabricated metal boxes around the motors to help with infection control. Hendrick facilities personnel also added an arm to the prototype that holds an iPad to allow the driver of the cart to view what’s in front of the cart, and to be used to allow for the isolated patient to visit with family.

The mechanized table will also have other uses, such as delivery of meals, medicines and messages to isolated patients, as well as physician consultations via the iPad so that the doctor or nurse doesn’t have to valuable PPE resources.

“We needed to think outside the box, so why not robots?” Holland said. Why not create a mechanism that puts distance between our staff and the patient as needed? We can’t always do that, but it saves personal protective equipment.”

By the time Haney, Long and Hope gathered at Hendrick early Monday morning, they realized their two designs were remarkably similar. Each had a motor over the two legs at the base of the cart, using much of the same framework and ingenuity.

“We developed our prototype, refined and then got to Hendrick and saw that Wylie had put together something very similar to ours,” Haney said. “That just told me that the kids listen to what we teach them. The processes and systems we talk about in both districts work, and we all followed them. As an instructor, to be able to experience building something like this from scratch is great. We’re putting our processes that we teach every day into action.”

Haney developed two prototypes before finally settling on a third that will be replicated four times over to give the hospital five working bed tables. Tiger Manufacturing is fabricating covers and the mechanized bed tables will be in use in the hospital possibly by the end of this week or, at the latest, by early next week.

“I feel fortunate that we’re able to part of this and hopefully help in some very small way during this difficult time that we’re going through in our country,” Haney said.

For his part, Young said, for him, seeing the completed work Wednesday afternoon answered the age-old question students have been asking for years: “when am I ever going to use this?”

“In all my in education, I’ve seen teachers and students do great things, but this might take the cake,” said Young as he stood at one of the bed tables made into a press conference podium. “Every year, every teacher is asked by at least one student when they’re ever going to use what’s being taught. But where I’m standing (Wednesday) is a prime example of what can be done and how what we do every day in classrooms across the country can be used.

“This really was an Apollo 13 event,” Young said. “I’m proud that we were able to partner with Wylie and Tiger and Hendrick in coming together to help our community. This is certainly an example of what can happen when people get together and the whole becomes greater than the parts.”