By Tony Catinella
Hingham resident and ALS patient, Randy Pipkin found it impossible to eat on his own, he reached out to local college students for help.
Pimkin needed help eating and he asked UMass Lowell’s engineering students to invent a machine that could feed him. He heard about the group of students through someone online and then successfully approached them. (Watch a video of the arm in action.)
“They interviewed me and decided that they wanted to make me the subject of their project,” he told Patch through email. “Before they made the arm, they came to my home. Took measurements and then worked on the machine. It took about six months or so. During this time, we stayed in contact sharing ideas about how the device would be most useful.”
The students built a “feeding arm” which Pipkin uses everyday and has helped him become more independent.
“I’ve lost so much of my independence with this terrible disease, Pipkin said. “So every little bit of independence I can get back, is a very big deal for me.”
The mechanical device picks up food and delivers it to Pipkin and helps him improve his self-care and his daily needs. The ALS patient says he uses the arm to eat foods like yogurt, oatmeal and grits but has a hard time eating larger foods.
Pipkin’s husband, Mark Malinowski said the machine operates with buttons that are by his feet and finds it incredible that he can now eat on his own.
“It’s really incredible that they could create a project like this,” Malinowski said.
Shaun Peters, a recent UML graduate who helped create the project said the feeding arm was built specifically for Pipkin.
“We met at his house and he gave us the details of what he needed,” Peters said. “It brings us a lot of joy to see him use it and gives him a sense of freedom."
Pipkin was also very gracious for the students’ work and hopes more feeding arms will be created in the future for ALS patients.
“I thought the students seemed dedicated and truly wanted to help me,” he said. “They seemed to really care that the arm would work and function properly.”
Pipkin has been battling ALS for eight years, which is rare – usually the deadly disease claims its victims within 4-6 years.
Before being diagnosed, Pipkin was living in Manhattan and pursuing a successful career in marketing global fragrance brands for companies such as Elizabeth Arden, Calvin Klein and Estee Lauder. Pipkin’s last project was spearheading the successful launch of Mariah Carey’s first fragrance “M” in 2007.
Thanks to his brave efforts, Pipkin is being named the official chairperson of a new campaign by the Needham-based ALS Therapy Alliance to raise awareness, money and hope for people fighting ALS.
“It is important to contribute to ALS research because there are people like me, every day, fighting to stay healthy in the hopes that there will be a breakthrough,” says Pipkin. “Doctors told me that I would not live more than a few year; eight years later, I am still here and I’m in relatively stable health. I want to encourage people to keep fighting ALS,”
“We had our stressful moments,” said the Fitchburg 22-year-old. “But we worked it out.”