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KU engineering students create device to help change the tune for young teen

Posted at 5:32 PM, Jul 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-02 18:32:47-04

SHAWNEE, Kan. -- When you step into the Burke household, music welcomes you. 

“The house has always been filled with music, so I've always grown up hearing the piano,” Heidi Burke said.

Heidi, 14, has been playing the piano since she was little. She said she wanted to be like her two older sisters growing up.

“I love the feeling, the sound,” Heidi said. “It's my friend.”

Musical certificates of the family’s work sprinkle the walls.

A few years ago, Heidi was getting ready for a recital, and the song called for the pedal.

“It was the first song that ever called for pedal,” she said. 

Heidi, who was born a quadruple amputee, was looking for a device to help her reach the push pedals. That’s when her mom reached out for help.

“I didn't know who had an engineering department, but I called all over the place and KU was the only one who responded, and they were so nice,” Dawn Burke, Heidi's mom, said. 

After reaching out to Professor Dr. Ken Fischer, he and students with the Biomedical Engineering Society, Kelsey Ling and Grant Sacco, put their creativity to the test to create a pedal pusher for Heidi.

“That’s really why I started engineering is to help people with you know medical challenges or medical hurdles, so engineering is a way to solve those problems,” Ling said. 

“It was unexpected. You work so hard and then you finally feel like what is it for, and then, in the end, it kind of pays off,” Sacco said. 

After two years of planning and creating, the device was finished.

“To see that dream of hers come into fruition was a pretty special moment,” Ling said. 

With the finished product, wrapped in Jayhawk apparel, Heidi plays the pedal with ease.

“They've given me so much,” Heidi said. “Even though it doesn't look like much, it's just the possibility is just key to a world of piano that was never open before.”