I thought 3D printing was all about creating guns?
No, it also extends to very useful products, just ask Hayley Fraser, from Inverness, who is thought to be the first child in the UK to have a prosthetic hand made through 3D printing.
Indeed. Five-year-old Hayley was born without any fingers on her left hand, but her innovative prosthetic means that she now has a fully functioning hand. “It was all her dreams come true,” said Hayley’s father, David. “It’s the little things – she can hold her teddy, peel a banana and even paint her nails now.”
It must have been an expensive procedure?
Not at all – the hand cost a mere £50.
How did it come about?
The prosthetic hand was thought up by E-Nable, whose founders first made a hand for a child in South Africa and then gave their blueprints away for free so that others could make them too.
Hayley’s dad called the philosophy behind the not-for-profit charity “amazing”. Melina Brown, a volunteer at the charity, said: “When we started it was more about function, but now it’s much more about self-esteem.”
The design departs from more realistic-looking prosthetics as children pick their own designs and colours – “they make the kids feel really special, rather than being something to be embarrassed about,” said Brown.
What’s the techy part?
Hayley’s parents made a plaster cast of her arm and sent it to Professor Frankie Flood, an engineer at the University of Wisconsin, who printed the parts on a 3D printer and created the hand in six weeks. By flexing and rotating her wrist, Hayley can move and control the hand’s artificial tendons and joints.
Bet you can’t put a price on the difference it’s made?
Certainly not. Born with a congenital abnormality called symbrachydactyly, Hayley was starting to become conscious of her disability. “We didn’t make a big deal out of it, but if she would stand for a photograph, she would stand with her other hand over it, or behind her back,” said David.
After children began to ask questions at nursery and doctors in the UK could only offer a toe transplant to her hand, David and his wife Zania came across E-Nable. “It has made a real difference to her,” they said.