Friday, September 5, 2014

Printing Prosthetics: Students Print New Arm for Little Boy

When his parents' insurance company refused to help cover a prosthetic arm, six year-old Alex Pring got a little help from a 3-D printer and some engineering students at the University of Central Florida.

Alex was born without a full right arm, but his parents, Alyson and Steven Pring, note that he has been able to cope extremely well and they are often amazed by all the things he can do. With a prosthetic arm and hand, they knew he could do much more. Alex had his own reasons for wanting the prosthetic.

“I wanted an arm so people would stop calling my arm names,” he said. “It hurts all my feelings. Everyone is born different. Everyone is special for what they do.”

Unfortunately, the high cost of prosthetics—around $40,000—seemed to put a new arm out of the picture.

Still, they persisted, wanting to do all they could for their son. The Prings tried to build Alex an arm with a kit they bought online, but they were frustrated by ineffectiveness of the toylike device. Alyson decided to reach out to other sources and was connected with Albert Manero of the University of Central Florida through an online volunteer organization called e-NABLE.

Manero headed the team of engineering students who created a cost-effective, functional prosthetic arm for Alex. Alex's arm took eight weeks to create and cost under $350 in materials. The arm's design was created by 21 year-old Mateo Alvarez, who explains that Alex is able to grasp objects by flexing his arm muscle. What struck Alyson Pring even more, however, was the feeling of receiving a two-armed hug from her son for the first time.

The benefits of the 3-D printed arm don't stop there. Part of the reason insurance companies are reticent to pay for prosthetics for kids is that they grow out of them quickly and therefore have to get new ones often. But as Alex grows, the cost of materials for an updated version of his arm will be around $20. And! The University of Central Florida team put the blueprints for the prosthetic online so others can access it and make their own.

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