Kids & Family

Students' Designs Help Toddler With Genetic Disorder

They used 3D printing technology to bring their awesome prototypes to life.


Emmett Highshoe is your typical, active two-year-old. She has an outgoing personality that her mother describes as "sassy and strong-willed." As a mother of a two-year-old myself, let's just say I can relate.

Emmett was diagnosed with Kabuki syndrome when her mother was pregnant with her, which is a rare genetic disorder that effects organ development and causes issues with her physical and cognitive abilities.

As a result of the disorder, the left side of Emmett's heart is underdeveloped, so she has to use an oxygen tank 24/7 to help relax her lungs. She also uses a walker due to having low muscle tone.

Maleigh K. Hightshoe/Facebook

While Emmett's health problems might sound overwhelming, they don't seem to get her down.

"She's so happy, loved, very much a people-person," Emmett's mother Maleigh told GMA. "Which is great because it helps us know if something isn't going well."

As Emmett grows into a busy toddler, she's been craving a bit more freedom – and it's not easy to get around with an oxygen tank attached to her walker at all times. Maleigh says the toddler often runs over the cords and they can get tangled in the wheels.

That all changed when Maleigh met Ben Davis, an engineering teacher at a nearby middle school in Charlotte, NC.

"This past summer we got to talking and he saw her oxygen tank," Hightshoe said of Davis. "It stirs the question, 'How do you get around?'"

Davis decided to take the question to his sixth graders to see what solutions they could come up with. After he told them about the project, the students met Emmett and took measurements of her walker.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools/Facebook

Davis organized the class into groups and tasked them with creating a functioning "holder" for the tank to give Emmett more mobility. Additionally, the company that makes the oxygen tanks gave the class a loaner to use to test out their designs.

"All the ideas were really unique," Davis said. "From the very first day, they were lit up and excited and happy -- they had millions of questions about Emmett."

It took the students almost three months to design, test and build their prototypes using 3D printers. One group made a holder that sits in a pull cart with a handle. Another attached the holder to the back of the walker and put it on caster wheels.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools/Facebook

Davis said he was impressed with the students' commitment to the project.

"They were really thinking about the mathematics and the science and just getting to it and designing some really incredible things," he said.

Maleigh ultimately chose four different designs that Emmett will test out and determine which works best.

"Their enthusiasm about this and watching those kids learn about Emmett. They say, 'She's just a little girl. She's just like us she needs help,'" Hightshoe said. "That was really encouraging."

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools/Facebook

Sounds like Emmett will be cruising around with more freedom in no time. All thanks to a group of caring (and curious) students who wanted to help.

How can you start something good?

You can help Emmett and other families that have children with heart defects by donating to The HEARTest Yard.

The initiative supports families in the Charlotte area by providing recovery resources to help ease the transition from the hospital to home.


Let's #StartSomethingGood together.

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