KU students help Shawnee teen without hands or feet play the piano

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SHAWNEE, Kan. — A Shawnee teenager proves nothing is impossible. Heidi Burke was born with legs that end at her knees, and arms that end at her elbows.

She doesn’t have hands or feet, but the determined 14-year-old can play beautiful music on her piano, thanks to years of lessons and a device built by engineering students at the University of Kansas.

Student volunteers in the KU Engineering Department’s BREAK Program designed and developed a pedal pusher for Heidi to use on the piano and play to her full potential. Without them, she got frustrated.

“I actually kind of stopped playing it for a while. I was like, I’m done with this, but then I got the pedal pusher and I could pick it right back up and continue to advance.”

Heidi’s mom, Dawn Burke, reached out to the program for help. ‘BREAK’ stands for Biomechanical Rehabilitation Engineering Advancement in Kansas. Dawn says her daughter’s drive is amazing.

“I had told Heidi, let me just sit beside you and push the pedal and she was like no, I want to do this by myself. It’s so cool, so cool to see her being happy and independent.”

Heidi got the pedal pusher for Christmas in 2017, and she’s been practicing hard ever since.

“Before the pedal pusher, I played probably at the bottom of anyone else just because I couldn’t make the right harmonies, it sounded kind of bleh,” Heidi said. “But with the pedal pusher, I got it on, put it on my leg pushed down and went woah.”

Heidi was inspired to play by her two older sisters. She says her music has a message.

“My sister always kind of treated me like I was just any other younger sister,” Heidi said. “She never was like I don’t know if you could do that. So I guess i would want them to know that just because they’re different and some people might see them as I don’t think you can do that, they should never accept someone who doesn’t really know them’s opinion of what they can do.”

Heidi also plays the trumpet and does gymnastics on her school’s cheer team.

She was just elected 8th grade class President at Midland Adventist Academy.

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