Prosthetic technology can be life-changing for people with missing limbs. It can also be prohibitively expensive — especially for kids, who already grow like sprouts. Remember those high-water jeans your mom made you wear because she’d just bought them for you two months earlier? Prosthetics, like denim, don’t morph with the changing shape of a person’s body. And with a price tag of tens of thousands of dollars, growing out of a prosthetic limb is much more serious than growing out of a pair of pants.
Enter 3D printing, and the brainwork of engineering students at Siena College in upstate New York. The students in Siena’s e-NABLE group recently created a perfectly-fitting prosthetic arm for nine-year-old Karissa Mitchell, who was born without a right hand. And, oh yeah — they even made it Frozen-themed.
“She’s watched the movie at least 100 times. We sing the songs all the time. We even have a karaoke machine that’s Frozen-themed,” Karissa’s mother Maria told KTLA 5. Maria reached out to the student-run e-NABLE chapter after seeing the Iron Man-themed hand they’d made for a five-year-old boy from Ohio.
Karissa’s arm was a first for Siena’s e-NABLE team. “They thought it would be a hand, initially,” said Siena College’s director of marketing and communications Jason Rich. “But as they got further involved in the project, they decided she needed a full arm.”
To make Karissa’s Disney Princess wishes come true, the team used “a pretty transparent ice blue color filament and added snowflakes to the forearm and her name with an Elsa crown on the cuff,” project lead Alyx Gleason said. They also gave the arm an Olaf LED light source. The arm consists of 30 parts, and took around 30 hours to print.
A big benefit of Karissa’s new arm: it’s a lot more lightweight than most prosthetics. “She had one from Shriners when she was four that she used until she was about six,” her mother said. “She didn’t use it consistently because it was very heavy, and it had a harness attached to it because it used her shoulder movements to open and close the little hand that it had.”
Karissa is thrilled with her new arm — especially the fact that she can pick up stuffed animals with it. Her next big goal is to be able to write her name with it.
As for the cost factor, the coolest part about the 3D-printed arms e-NABLE is producing for kids is the fact that the designs only cost the lab between $30 and $50 to print and assemble.
What’s next for the students working in the e-NABLE lab? Another arm — this time for a Ugandan girl named Veronica, whose arm was amputated past her elbow after an accident. And the lab isn’t planning on stopping any time soon. “Anyone who is in need of an arm or hand is encouraged to contact Siena e-NABLE,” KTLA writes.
Watch Karissa squeal over her new arm, below. It will melt the most frozen of hearts.