Cheslyn Simpson receives electric wheelchair from LSU students

Darian Graivshark
A group photo of Cheslyn Simpson with the LSU students who created her new beach wheelchair.

On Tuesday, April 30, Cheslyn Simpson of Plaquemine received an electric wheelchair, which would make beach accessibility easier on the family.

Simpson was diagnosed with Friedreich's ataxia, which is a degenerative neuro-muscular disorder. It causes difficulty walking, loss of sensation in the arms and legs, and impaired speech. Ataxia means "lack of order."

The Simpson family goes to the beach every year. It's not easy, though, using Simpson's everyday wheelchair in the sand. One engineering student, Daniel Lucas, explained that a purely recreational wheelchair is not available to a lot of people.

There were nine mechanical and electrical engineering students that spent the 2018 and 2019 academic school year devising the beach accessible wheelchair for Simpson. The students include: Daniel Lucas, a Mechanical Engineering major from Houston, Texas; Grace Hebert, Mechanical Engineering from Mandeville, La.; Carlos Villao, Electrical Engineering major from Ecuador; Brant Hoover, Electrical Engineering from Slidell, La.; Seth Collins, Mechanical Engineering from Prairieville, La.; Ryan Schroeder, Mechanical Engineering from Toledo, Ohio; Kevin Durr, Mechanical Engineering from Mandeville, La.; Emmanuel Rodriguez, Electrical Engineering from St. Rose, La.; and Anthony Phan, Electrical Engineering from New Orleans, La.

Simpson originally wrote an essay in 2017 when her speech therapist suggested she write the engineering students, asking for help, through their Senior Capstone Design program. They involved Simpson in the design process, where she picked out the colors and upholstery for her chair.

Simpson's mother, Shannon, said, "I think it's awesome. It's unbelievable. It's done, and I'm excited for everyone who helped participate, sponsored the project, and donated to it."

The wheelchair has some cool features, including a cooler, a Bluetooth music player, cup holder, umbrella holders, headlights, and under glow lights that change colors.

"We received about $3,000 from the LSU Foundation that was donated to last year's project group and we were able to double that from our GoFundMe account," Lucas said. "We also had a number of local businesses that donated materials, including the welding and frame. The motors were donated from an international company located in New Zealand. The controls were also donated. We reached out to these companies, looking to buy the products with our money, and then when they heard our story and learned this was a student project, these companies wanted to buy into it. They offered to send us the items we needed."

Grace Hebert said, "We also made it to where Cheslyn could use her current charger for her wheelchair on her new wheelchair. That way, the family didn't have to go out and get some special kind of charger."

"The tires on it are pretty strong," Kevin Durr said. "They don't really have to worry about them popping. We tested them out, and even ran over some screws, and they never popped. They do have a spare tire, though, if something happens. We gave them instructions on how to do that if that were to happen."

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