3D printing Prosthetic limbs like a cyborg

“Welcome home!” smiled Andrew at the sight of his 8-year old son Aidan. The kid, however, couldn’t match his enthusiasm as he just walked in with a long face.

Andrew exchanged a worried glance with his wife when he noticed Aidan’s sleeve rolled down. A thing the kid would often repeat when he would go out to hide his fingerless left hand due to a birth defect.

Aidan’s parents understood him being self-conscious, however, they couldn’t do much about it as there seemed to be no viable solution. A prosthetic arm or the surgery would cost them a fortune. They felt like their child was trapped in a vicious cycle of self-hate and lack of confidence and it killed them to be so helpless.

Then in February 2017, Andrew learned about 3D printed prosthetic limbs through the online community e-NABLE. After sharing the measurements of Aidan’s wrist. Aidan requested for the new hand to be themed as Jango Fett from Star Wars.

It was a “magical moment” said Andrew and Delisle as they saw their kids face light up and the “Ew, what’s wrong with your hand” by other kids turn to “oh cool! Is that a robot hand!?”

Many organizations around the world, with the help of 3D printing, have set out to lend a “helping hand” to the 30 million estimated people in need of prosthetics. On the forefront of this trend is enabled, a global network of as many as 30,000 volunteers who make 3D printed arms and 3D Printed hands for those who need them. The group works hand in hand with the victims guiding them through every step of the process. This has allowed people to get back to their normal lives at costs as low as $15 compared to a traditional prosthetic which cost as high $20,000.

6 of the 1500 children born every year born with upper limb disabilities learned to tinker with the latest 3D modeling and printing tools and set out to a mission to create a mighty prosthetic arm of their dreams.

Kate Ganim, co-director of KIDmob once asked: “What happens if we start to look at a missing limb like a black canvas rather than a disability?”. I say “That’s when the magic happens”

Superheroes converged for the program “Superhero Cyborgs”. A program to reimagine the possibilities for standard, boring prostheses. Participants as young as 10 years of age learn plaster casing, electronics etc. Imagination was the only limit for the prostheses that could be made like the elastic arms of Mr. Fantastic or Man of Steel forearms.

Turns out the only superpower these kids wanted was that to make friends and have fun. Designs included a Nerf Gun holder, a bow and arrow and even glitter shooters called “Project Unicorn”. Similarly, Sydney Howard, a young girl deigned an elbow activated water gun to be “unbeatable” in the water fights with her siblings. Dave an 11-year old clenched his self-designed robot-like arm and told his mentor “Mom said I could be anything, I want to be a superhero cyborg and help everyone”

On its pace, 3D printing shall soon replace all surgical tools and instruments. 3D printing has revolutionized every industry it has touched, the medical field is no different, but in this case, I must say it’s gone ahead and touched lives.

Such stories help us believe that in the future, the word “impossible” will definitely be fiction. With the help of 3D Printing we can help people in need of prosthetics live a better life.

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