Elizabeth Johnson, a senior biomedical engineering student at Georgia Tech, left, speaks with Darrell Moyer, with Southwest Contract, the company that designs and manufactures the beds used in college dorms. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tragic accident at Georgia Tech spurs call for bed rails in dorms

One side of his loft bed was against a wall. But on the other side, there was nothing. Nothing to prevent Clark Jacobs from rolling out of his bed in a Georgia Tech fraternity house and falling seven feet to the floor.

Jacobs fractured his skull and needed emergency brain surgery in January 2015. He would spend months healing from his injuries and relearning how to live. And his ordeal could have been prevented with one thing: a bed rail.

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Jacobs’ story inspired some of his classmates into action, and this week, two teams of seniors presented projects designed to prevent other college students from suffering the same fate. The projects, required for engineering students to graduate, could change the future of dorm furniture.

“Our goal was to redesign a bed rail to make it specifically for college students, which isn’t currently on the market,” Madeleine Jayme, a biomedical engineering student, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

 Natalie Larkins, a fourth year industrial design student at Georgia Tech, sits in her group’s demonstration bed during their presentation at the Capstone Expo. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

While bunk beds and loft beds sold for homes have side rails to prevent falls, there aren’t regulations on the beds used on college campuses, according to Mariellen Jacobs. Since her son’s injury, she’s been on a mission to make sure beds are safer in dorms and fraternity houses.

She founded Rail Against the Danger, or RAD, to raise awareness about the need for rails, something she admits she never thought about before Clark’s fall. The Jacobs’ would like to see rails on all loft beds and are working with the University System of Georgia to implement it.

“I just know that if this doesn’t happen, there’s going to be another injury and another kid hurt really badly,” Mariellen Jacobs said. “It’s just a simple fix.”

Georgia Tech student Clark Jacobs in his room at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house. Jacobs is back in school after cracking his skull in January 10, 2015 when he fell out of his bunk bed. (BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM)
Photo: Brant Sanderlin

Ugly, metal bed rails probably wouldn’t be a hit among the college crowd. Students on both project teams brainstormed ideas after interviewing classmates.

“A lot of college students think that bed rails are for younger children,” Jayme said. “A lot of them weren’t aware of the consequences that can happen if you don’t use a bed rail.”

But in cramped living spaces, anything offering storage space would be an asset to the college crowd.

Rachel Bennett, a mechanical engineering major, said her group created a simple design that students can customize. Hooks, a whiteboard and an electrical outlet will make it easier for students to use computers in their beds.

“Students use laptops, so a lot of times desks are used for storage,” Bennett said. “It’s so simple to sit in your bed with the laptop.”

Bennett’s teammates included Kaitlyn Shinault, Natalie Larkins and Lena Oliver, all industrial design majors, and Kieran Ram, a mechanical engineering major. Ciana Ferden, Abhinav Mehra and Elizabeth Johnson, all biomedical engineering majors, were members of Jayme’s team. The two teams were among more than 200 projects on display Tuesday, and both hope to get the attention of three furniture manufacturers.

“It would be really cool to see it implemented,” Bennett said.

The school project could turn into a real-world reality for the students. But regardless, the project taught them much more than they could learn in a classroom, the students said.

“If we can bring awareness and possibly save one person, then this whole thing has been worth it,” Jayme said.

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