With less than $4 in parts and just a few minutes of time, Jon Turnquist invented a product that resembles a sports drink bottle with a long straw.

But simple as it seems, the product is sure to forever change the life of a Dubuque, Iowa, woman suffering from multiple sclerosis.

The same goes for Carleen Cochran’s invention.

Hers is a set of adaptive hammers. And while they look basic enough, they allow a person to use only one arm to hold and drive nails, making tasks such as hanging fence and

drywalling much easier for anyone who has lost an arm.

Both Cochran, an occupational therapy master’s student at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, and Turnquist, one of the program’s assistant professors, developed their inventions with the goal of helping others.

They recently were recognized for their efforts with first-place awards from the American Occupational Therapy Association.

“Both inventions will really help people,” said Phyllis Wenthe, director of the school’s master of occupational therapy program.

While Turnquist said the prize money was $1,000, the real reward was seeing his invention — a check valve straw — make it possible for a 58-year-old with multiple sclerosis to drink on her own.

“She has poor oral control and is limited to movement from the neck up,” he said. “When she tried to drink, all it would take is one breath and she would break the seal and the liquid would go back into the glass.”

The check valve straw, which Turnquist said is “made with food-grade plastic and a stainless steel ballbearing from K&K Hardware (in Bettendorf),” prevents the liquid from falling back down the straw.

“An individual can stop sucking without loss of effort and the fluid remains at the level they stopped at,” he explained. “It works great for rehab patients.”

Aside from the Dubuque woman, the check valve straw is being used by patients at a Los Angeles rehabilitation center and has impressed many others closer to home.

“I presented at Mercy Hospital in Dubuque and their eyes got real wide,” Turnquist said. “They had a patient that day who had not been able to drink and this was perfect for him.”

Cochran, a third-year student, grew up in rural Glasford, Ill., and has had a lifelong interest in working with farmers.

She said her invention — which consists of a hammer with a nail or staple already attached by a magnet — will be put to use soon as well.

“I’m not sure if it’s being used yet,” she said. “But it was made for several Iowa farmers through AgrAbility (a USDA-funded program designed to assist injured farmers) and they should be given out soon.”

Wenthe said such inventions are something those in the St. Ambrose occupational therapy assistive technology lab work hard to develop.

“There is a lot of commercially available equipment out there to help people,” she said. “But it just doesn’t always do the job. And that’s when these inventions can really help.”

Rachelle Treiber can be contacted at (563) 383-2363 or rtreiber@qctimes.com.

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