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Give Him a Hand – No, Really

BY KIM BELLARD

When I read The Washington Post article about how a Tennessee high school student’s engineering class built him a prosthetic hand, my immediate reaction, of course, was to be touched, but my bigger reaction was, wait – high school students can now create prosthetics?

If you haven’t been paying attention, the world of prosthetics has been changing in amazing ways, and it’s not done.  

The student, Sergio Peralta, was born with his right hand not fully formed, and for much of his life it was a problem.  As he wrote in his own account in Newsweek: “When I got bullied at my old school, the bullies would always compare me to them and make me feel like I am less of a person because of my right hand.”  His high school engineering teacher noticed his limitations, got permission from his mother to create a prosthetic for him, and assigned three students to the project.

Within a week, they’d used a 3D printer to create a prototype, and over the next couple weeks they’d iterated it to a version Sergio was happy with. “As he was adjusting it, I felt very happy,” Sergio writes.  “It looked cool and robotic, and it was grey and blue. We then tested weather [sic] I was able to grip objects with it…My teacher was so happy that the hand worked. It was exciting for him to see me catch a ball for first time in 15 years.” 

3D printing has been one of the big breakthroughs for prosthetics. The Afghan and Iraq wars unfortunately created a huge demand for them, and the military health services stepped up. Dr. Peter Liacouras, the Director of Services for the 3D Medical Applications Center at Walter Reed, says: “Over the past ten years, we have concentrated on filling the gaps in prosthetics through 3D printing. 3D printing has been highly flexible and applicable for specialty solutions of limited production needs.”  Ukrainian soldiers are now benefiting from this expertise.

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