The gift of new hands

Published 12:24 pm Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas came early for 11-year old Macy Presley and seven-year old Christopher Olvera, both of Loudon, Tennessee, who had their first fitting of custom 3D printed prosthetic hands on Dec. 11. The hands were a gift from Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine (LMU-DCOM) student, Cole Carter.

Carter has always had an interest in technology. As a master student at LMU, Carter volunteered with e-Nable, a global nonprofit that gives 3D printed prosthetic hands to those in need. Three dimensional printed prostheses have been shown to be beneficial due to their durability, light weight composition and low cost. Due to the high cost of production for traditional prostheses, and because children tend to quickly outgrow prostheses, Carter wished to explore how 3D technology could help meet a need for children in the Appalachian region. The result was a research project at LMU entitled, “Using 3D Printed Prosthetic Hands to Improve the Quality of Life of Appalachian Children.”

“Providing prosthetic hands to children can be very difficult for uninsured or under-insured families because hand prostheses can be expensive and children outgrow them quickly,” Carter said. “These prosthetic hands cost less than $100 to make, and have the potential to drastically improve somebody’s quality of life.”

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When Olvera entered the room and saw his new prosthetic hand, his face was all business as he studied its movement, eager to try it on. After a few adjustments, the hand fit snugly on his arm and he quickly adapted to using it to grab items like a water bottle and glue stick. With minimal assistance he learned how to use the hand by using his wrist to power the hand’s movement.

Presley’s prosthetic hand is powered through the movement of her elbow to best meet her physical needs. Presley’s prosthesis was the first elbow-powered device Carter had assembled. He has planned to adjust his design and present Presley with a new 3D prosthetic hand in mid-January. Presley plays basketball for her school and Carter and Reese are both hoping she will gain enough grip and control to enable her to shoot a basket with both hands before the season ends.

Carter has been working with local occupational therapist Janice Reese, M.Ed., OT/L, ATP, at Assistive Technology for Kids (AT4K) to communicate with the families and ensure proper fit of the devices. AT4K is a program of the Little Tennessee Valley Educational Cooperative that provides assistive technology services to students with special needs throughout the East Tennessee region.

“We are always looking to find resources and support for our kids,” Reese said. “I was excited to learn about Cole’s research project and feel privileged to be part of it. I know that both families are eager for their children to begin using the prostheses.”

Carter has hopes of being able to find more children from the region that have hand deformities and may benefit from a 3D prosthetic hand to include in his study. For more information on Carter’s research project visit Appalachian Hand Makers on Facebook.