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JH Student Helps Injured Friend Communicate

A Sycamore Junior High School student has invented a way to help his friend communicate for the first time since being involved in a tragic accident.

Eighth grader Jacob Smilg loves programming and designing electronics. He participates in Project Lead the Way, and enjoys his electronics and robotics classes at Sycamore Junior High. Using an LED board and some ingenuity, he repurposed a class project to serve a greater purpose: helping Ethan Kadish get his voice back.

Smilg and Kadish became friends five years ago when Jacob’s family moved to Sycamore Community Schools. They enjoyed spending time together and playing games, until Ethan suffered a brain injury in 2013 after being struck by lightning.

“Afterwards, it was really kind of one-sided having conversations because you could see him there, you could kind of see him reacting,” Smilg said.

After two years of rehabilitation, in October, Ethan finally began blinking his eyes to communicate. Seeing the breakthrough, Jacob began to program a “yes and no” LED board. The board is connected to two switches, that are placed on each side of Ethan’s wheelchair, so he can lean his head to the left to answer “yes” and to the right to answer “no.”

"The display would change from the Y and the N to a yes or a no depending on which button that he would press," says Jacob.

Surrounded by friends and family on Thanksgiving, Ethan gave them one more thing to be thankful for. He answered questions using Jacob's program.

“Ethan was in a good mood. We were all around with our friends and family. We tried it out and it was beautiful,” said Jen Smilg, Jacob’s mother. “It was the most Ethan’s communicated in 2 1/2 years.”

Smilg’s groundbreaking device has gained attention from local media, airing stories on WLWT, WCPO and WKRC. After word of his project began to spread, a friend started a GoFundMe page for Smilg and his need for a 3D printer to make improvements on the design. He wants to build customizable brackets to attach the device to Ethan’s wheelchair.

Jacob plans to program his device so Ethan can light the eighth bulb of the electric menorah on "Eighth Night for Ethan,” a fundraiser and Hanukkah celebration at the Rockdale synagogue this month.