In the past four years, Clayton-Bradley Academy students have crafted prosthetic arms for children from as far away as Africa and as close as Knoxville. Now they’re ensuring that work continues, at the private school and beyond.
Caroline Stedina and Hannah Rasmussen last month fitted a prosthesis on a second grader at Green Magnet Academy, are writing a step-by-step guide on the process and mentoring other students, including one in Maine who is creating an arm for a child in Finland.
The process of creating the arm takes two to four weeks, with multiple prototypes. For the four complete arms, they estimated they have printed 20 to 30.
This fall was the first time CBA students have been able to measure the child in person before adapting a design and building it from parts crafted on a 3D printer.
In the past they have had to rely on photos family members sent of rulers beside the child’s arm, and with the third recipient they had to mail the arm instead of fitting it in person.
Kayziun Davis was the first child Rasmussen saw receive the arm in person, and the experience last month was enough to change her plans to major in chemistry or mechanical engineering to biomedical engineering.
“She was throwing the ball on her first try,” Rasmussen said, recalling the tears in the eyes of the Kayziun’s mother.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” she said of seeing the child do something she had never been able to do before. “I had shivers down my spine.”
After working on all four projects, Stedina said, “You never get used to it.”
“At first it’s like a project, and then (you realize) you’re changing their life,” she said.
Stedina will major in rehabilitation therapy, an interest developed after her own back injury.
“I think this year was the best that we’ve ever done,” she said. “We figured out a new way to do it using new (OpenSCAD) software.”
The school also has improved the tools students have to work with, adding to the Makerbot printers a Creality 3D high-precision printer. Other students at the school recently used it to print a working model of a car engine and transmission.
What has been tougher to develop is the pipeline for projects.
“We’re still trying to find out exactly how these people are finding out about us,” engineering teacher Barry Lucas said of the recipients. The school wants to make that easier.
Freshmen and sophomore students are working on marketing and visibility for the program, including working with the e-NABLE online community of which the school is a chapter.
“We’re now thinking, ‘How do we make this even bigger,’” Lucas said.
He noted that at Clayton-Bradley the goal is for students not only to master learning but also be able to share what they learn with others.
By developing the prostheses. students learn how to work with a customer as well as the printers, and how to solve problems.
One earlier recipient had his first arm break a couple weeks after receiving it, so the students went back and adapted the design, printing with a stronger material.
All of the children whom the CBA students have created prosthetics for have a condition in which their forearms didn’t fully develop before birth. Regular prosthetic arms are cost prohibitive for children still growing, but the materials the students use cost about $35.
In addition to mentoring CBA students and others who have contacted them from high schools and colleges in other states, the seniors are completing a step-by-step guide on the process of creating the prostheses. “We wanted to leave a legacy and help other people be able to do what we’re doing,” Stedina said.
“We’re helping kids from across the country start this program and to make it affordable for children,” Rasmussen added.