A Helping Hand

Med student builds 3D-printed prosthetic hands for kids in Appalachia

Here’s how one LMU-DCOM student is creating low-cost prosthetics to help kids in his community.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine and has been edited for The DO.  It has been reposted here with permission

Cole Carter, OMS I, has given the gift of movement to two children in east Tennessee by designing and building low cost, 3D-printed prosthetic hands for them.

The Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine (LMU-DCOM) student has always had an interest in technology. As a master’s 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, lightweight composition, and low cost. 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.

“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 says. “These prosthetic hands cost less than $100 to make, and have the potential to drastically improve somebody’s quality of life.”

When Christopher 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.

LMU-DCOM student, Cole Carter, OMS I, fits the 3D prosthetic hand for Macy Presley. (Photo provided by LMU-DCOM)

Macy 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 is planning to adjust his design and present Presley with a new 3D prosthetic hand. 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.

Carter has been working with local occupational therapist Janice Reese, MEd, 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 says. “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 hope to find more children from the region who have hand deformities and may benefit from a 3D-prosthetic hand. For more information on Carter’s research project, visit Appalachian Hand Makers on Facebook.

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