Sitting in Williamson County Public Library this week, a 6-year-old from Tunisia watched as she flexed her fingers, first closing the new blue plastic hand on her left, and then mimicking the motion with her right hand.
Teacher Barry Lucas watched the child’s curiosity as she quickly adapted to her first prosthetic arm, created by two of his students at Clayton-Bradley Academy in Maryville.
The opportunity to build something that would help another person is what sparked the interest of Jaden Bogert and Caroline Stedina in his engineering class and fueled their work during the past semester.
Monday the Clayton-Bradley girls, their parents and Lucas traveled to Nashville to deliver the arm to Aniyah Irwin, whose family was passing through on their way from Africa to Texas.
“She is the adopted daughter of two missionaries from the United States who are currently living full-time in Tunisia,” Lucas explained, and they travel to American only every couple of years.
Aniyah has a congenital birth defect that stopped development of her left forearm just below the elbow.
“Adolescent prosthetics are expensive, and you outgrow them quickly,” noted Lucas. But a worldwide online community, e-NABLE.org, is connecting people who need prosthetics with students, engineers and medical professionals who can provide them.
The Clayton-Bradley students talked with e-NABLE’s founder and a couple of engineers over FaceTime before the Monday meeting with Aniyah and received a few tips.
One was to take a small stuffed animal as a gift to break the ice during their first meeting, which also provides something simple for the child to pick up.
Jaden and Caroline adjusted the straps and used athletic tape to help fit the prosthetic on Aniyah’s forearm. Soon the little girl was taking it off and putting it on herself.
“She’s a little dynamo,” Lucas said.
They took pictures and videos to share with the e-NABLE engineers. “We’re also going to do some work on modifying the design to fit her better,” Lucas said.
“I think we will have the opportunity as Aniyah grows to provide her with another arm,” he said.
The girl’s left forearm currently is only 3 or 4 inches, he explained, but as she grows it will grow proportionally and she will continue to develop her ability to use the prosthetic.
While he was happy for Aniyah, Lucas also said, “I was so excited that my students had an opportunity to do something like this.”
“It’s the type of opportunity that we want for our students at Clayton-Bradley,” he said, and they hope other schools will join the effort too.
In his Project Based Engineering class, Lucas said, “we’re always looking at engineering for social good.”
He read about e-NABLE about a year ago, and in January when he heard about his new students’ passion for volunteer work, “It popped back into my brain,” he said.
When Caroline and Jaden started working on the prosthetic, Lucas said, “I had to get out of their way to keep from getting run over.”
“It’s one of those really great things as a teacher, when you feel that they don’t really need me,” Lucas said.
He was there to help them problem-solve issues such as how to print the larger parts, but “I never had to push them. They were always one step ahead.”
He hopes the Clayton-Bradley students not only will continue using the school’s 3D printers to create prosthetics but also will increase the visibility of e-NABLE. “It’s such a unique opportunity for folks to give back,” he said.