April 16, 2014

Eating and Healing

Junior part of team developing interactive app focused on children's health

by staff writer, Published June 26, 2013

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Even before she graduated from Northwest High School in Canal Fulton, Ohio, Taylor Lash knew she wanted to be an occupational therapist.

"Early on I knew I wanted to work with people and help them," Lash, 20, says.  "At first I thought I'd be a pediatric nurse, but I came to realize I couldn't do the blood and guts."

Still determined to help, Lash began looking at other opportunities in health care, and as a high school junior got the chance to job-shadow an occupational therapist at Akron Hospital.

"That was it," she says.  "I loved it, and I knew that was what I wanted to do."

Now a junior at EMU, she's well on her way.  Lash is a student in the three-plus-two occupational therapy program at Eastern, from which she'll graduate with a bachelor's and a master's degree in just 5 years. As a practicing occupational therapist, Lash will help patients who have lost skills due trauma, or those who have developmental delays.  In cases of traumatic injury or stroke, she says, the goal is to recover post-trauma skills.

"OT helps you get back to the person you are," she explained. "Who were you before?  Let's get you back to being that person."

Lash has combined her OT major with a minor in human nutrition - disciplines she says go hand-in-hand.  Research is being done, she says, on how nutrition can aid in physical recovery, and improve conditions like autism.

"If I can understand nutrition and how it may be causing a physical problem," Lash says, "that could solve it all."

It's that combination of OT and nutrition studies that landed her a plum research position while still an undergrad.  Lash is part of a team of scientists developing Pediatrac, a cellphone app that allows parents to monitor their children's development and get feedback on environmental and nutritional choices that may be impacting them.  Parents use a survey to submit data on their children's behaviors or symptoms, then doctors collect it and respond.  The app can immediately alert parents to problems indicated by the information and offer options for correcting them.  The interactivity is what makes the app unique, Lash says.

"We've always assessed these kinds of things by looking at the past," she says. "There hasn't been a tool that does it in real time."

Lash's primary contribution right now is doing literature reviews, looking at what's been done and how it worked, but she has also contributed to the app's content.  Because of her study of fetal development, the team added several questions on pre-natal nutrition to Pediatrac's assessment tool.  Lash also reviews the app at various stages.

"I'm another set of eyes to make sure it's understandable," she says.

If all goes well, Lash says, she'll start her master's degree winter semester.  Although she plans to return to her hometown once she's finished at EMU, she hopes to continue working on the Pediatrac project.  The team is spread out now, communicating via Google chat, so she's confident she could stay involved from a new location.

"I'd love to see it through," she said.

Geoff Larcom

glarcom@emich.edu

734.487.4400

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