Recently the NYTimes posted an article about prosthetic arms that appeal to children’s creativity. This exert, originally written by Jacqueline Mroz, warrants a good look.
The proliferation of 3-D printers has had an unexpected benefit: The devices, it turns out, are perfect for creating cheap prosthetics. Surprising numbers of children need them: One in 1,000 infants is born with missing fingers, and others lose fingers and hands to injury.
State-of-the-art prosthetic replacements are complicated medical devices, powered by batteries and electronic motors, and they can cost thousands of dollars. Even if children are able to manage the equipment, they grow too quickly to make the investment practical. So most do without, fighting to do with one hand what most of us do with two.
E-nable, an online volunteer organization, aims to change that. Founded in 2013 by Jon Schull, the group matches children in need of prosthetic hands and fingers with volunteers able to make them on 3-D printers. Designs may be downloaded into the machines at no charge, and members who create new models share their software plans freely with others.
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They are not designed to look like replacement parts. One popular model, the Cyborg Beast, looks like a limb from a Transformer. The Raptor Hand and Talon Hand 2.X do not suggest disability; they hint at comic-book superpowers. And they are not made to be hidden — indeed, they can be fabricated in a variety of eye-catching fluorescent colors, or even made to glow in the dark.
The fingers are closed by flexing the wrist, which pulls on cable “tendons.” Move the wrist again, and the hand opens. The hands are printed in pieces, which are assembled by volunteers, or by parents and children themselves.
It is not much harder than putting together a complex Lego kit, said Ivan Owen, one of the inventors of the 3-D printed hands. “We released the designs into the public domain so there’d be no patent and everyone could do whatever they wanted with it,” he said. “So many people contributed their time to improve on the initial design. I feel blessed.”
Health care providers are beginning to take note. In September, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland and E-nable hosted their first 3-D printing conference involving the medical community, volunteers, recipients and manufacturers. The hospital has purchased a 3-D printer and has begun printing free prosthetic devices for children.
“Anyone can get one of these hands — it doesn’t matter what insurance or health provider you have,” said Dr. Albert Chi, an assistant professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “To be able to provide such a functional tool for anyone with congenital hand or limb loss, it kind of brings you to tears a little bit.”
This post is an exert from NYTimes written by Jacqueline Mroz.