The Bionic Glove Project Is Giving a Sierra Leone Civil War Survivor a New 3D Printed Hand

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Julian and his hand.

Julian and his hand.

Chad Coarsey was born with symbrachydactyly of the left hand, which left him without most of his hand but with a functional wrist. When he was approached by a classmate at Florida Atlantic University and asked if he would like to have a 3D printed prosthetic hand made for him he immediately said yes. Little did the bioengineering student know that the hand being made for him by electrical engineering student and lab manager Perry Weinthal would lead to something far more important than a cool bionic hand. After the pair tried out several versions of the hand, and experimented with different designs, they decided to team up and launch a non-profit called The Bionic Glove Project and 3D print prosthetic hands for anyone in need.

Weinthal and Coarsey with Julian at a Miami Marlins game.

Weinthal and Coarsey with Julian at a Miami Marlins game.

The first person that Weinthal and Coarsey were able to help was six-year-old Julian Sanchez who, like Coarsey, was born without his fingers. As a starter hand, Julian was given an early prototype that was developed for Coarsey but rejected for being too small. However it fit the six-year-old perfectly, and he quickly took to using his bionic glove as if he had used it his entire life. When Julian was invited to throw out the first pitch at a Miami Marlins game in September of 2015, Weinthal and Coarsey made him a brand new red, white and blue prosthetic hand.

As Julian gets older, he is going to quickly outgrow his prosthetic hands at a rate of about one every six months. Thankfully, each 3D printed hand only costs a few hundred dollars in materials and supplies, not the tens of thousands that traditional prosthetics cost. That means that it will be pretty easy and inexpensive to keep Julian in the properly-sized prosthetic hands – another benefit of using 3D printing to make prosthetic devices rather than the more expensive and labor intensive traditional methods.

Damba Koroma having her prosthetic arm fitted.

Damba Koroma having her prosthetic arm fitted. [Image: Sun Sentinel]

It was while reading a news story about the hand that Weinthal and Coarsey made for Julian when 23-year-old Damba Koroma first learned exactly what 3D printing could do for someone missing a limb. When Koroma was only five years old she was caught up in the tragic civil war that was raging throughout Sierra Leone and had her arm brutally cut off just above the elbow by rebels who had raided her village. In the fifteen years since, she has been adopted by a couple in the US and was attending college in Virginia. It was while working as as a volunteer with Americorps that Koroma read a news story on Weinthal and Coarsey and wondered if they would be able to help her with a prosthetic hand. So she decided to take a chance by emailing them.

“I was like, I’d like to be a guinea pig if you guys are still working on the project. I was really amazed at what they did,” Koroma told the Sun Sentinel.

Dr. Aaron Berger, Koroma and Coarsey.

Dr. Aaron Berger, Koroma and Coarsey. [Image: Sun Sentinel]

Weinthal and Coarsey were happy to help make Koroma’s prosthetic hand, and a charity called the Quantum Foundation was willing to put up the $500 that they would need to 3D print and assemble the prosthetic. In no time at all Koroma had her new hand made from blue, green and even a few glow-in-the-dark parts. While trying her hand on for size, Koroma couldn’t help but let out an excited “Yay!” once it fit her properly. While using this type of prosthetic hand, based on a design from e-NABLE, takes a bit of getting used to, Koroma was eager to test it out in the kitchen where she enjoys cooking food from her native Sierra Leone.

Koroma’s prosthetic was the fifth hand designed and built by Weinthal and Coarsey since they started their non-profit. Since their first hand, made with their own money, the pair have received a $3,000 grant from the Quantum Foundation for their own 3D printer. They are just getting their non-profit going and already have a long list of parents who want 3D printed prosthetic hands for their children, many of them referrals from a local doctor who originally put them in contact with their first hand recipient, Julian. Dr. Aaron Berger is a pediatric surgeon at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital who specializes in surgeries of the hand, and consults with the Bionic Glove Project. You can find out more about Weinthal and Coarsey, and the Bionic Glove Project, on their website. Discuss in the 3D Printed Prosthetic Hand forum over at 3DPB.com.

[Source: The Bionic Glove Project / Images: Sun Sentinel]
It fits like a Bionic Glove!

It fits like a Bionic Glove!

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