As 3D printing continues to pave its much forecasted transformative path through the many areas of industry, innumerable fields are feeling the positive impacts, but few as substantially as the area of medical devices, and specifically, prosthetics. While the amount of technological progress is substantial, the emotional and humanitarian impacts that have accompanied the stories behind so many of the 3D printed prosthetics are breathtaking, really, and nearly always brings a tear to my eye—and I know I’m not alone.
Create Prosthetics is part of this inspirational journey a rare few are currently traveling, making and continually improving upon 3D printed replacement limbs and accessories, even to include a variety of 3D printed prosthetic covers. The journey has been literal as well, and now we see their team traveling to Haiti, ready to change the life of one woman there who has not always been so lucky.
The story of Danis Exulise may give you chills. A single mother at 20, to a toddler, Danis is also a survivor. She was in the catastrophic earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, affecting millions, and responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 citizens. Danis survived, but the experience, like for so many others, was extremely traumatic. As she attempted to rescue her niece, her house collapsed and she was left trapped underneath. Pinned down in the rubble for over seven hours, Danis was forced to make one of the most awful decisions one could be faced with, and to act on it: she had to cut off her own arm to escape. She and her daughter still live in a tiny shack in a displacement camp in Haiti.
The Create Prosthetics team, dedicated to helping those in need of prosthetics around the world, heard of Danis and Create Prosthetics founder Jeff Erenstone (also a certified prosthetist & orthoptist) met with Danis and performed a fitting earlier in June, marking the first time they’d worked with an amputee from Haiti. Another very important first was about to be marked as well though with the delivery of a medical-grade 3D printed arm.
The prosthetic is aesthetically appealing and more lightweight than its traditional counterparts. Meant to allow the amputee to do more, the arm is made to offer a superior functional grasping pattern.
“We have found a niche that a 3D-printed prosthetic arm fills very well,” said Erenstone. “Other prosthetic arms may be more functional, but our arm is very attractive and easy to become accustomed to. If an amputee has trouble with other arms, they may want to try ours.”
The team produced the hand and forearm meant for Danis at their lab back in Lake Placid, and then Erenstone boarded a plane himself, traveling with her new arm to Healing Hands for Haiti in Port-au-Prince where he worked further with the Enable Community Foundation (ECF) to complete the prosthetic arm, building the socket and completing the rest of the assembly—resulting in a lightweight device that weighs in at half of what a normal prosthetic would. What an incredibly fulfilling job in that he was able to build this prosthetic, travel to Haiti and give it to Danis in person.
According to Erenstone, the experience was quite emotional for all involved. As Danis put on the prosthetic, her little girl Sundine approached and kissed her young mother’s hand, bringing Erenstone to tears—and understandably so.
“You have to understand how important that moment was,” he said. “It means that her daughter has accepted the prosthetic as a part of her mother and not as an attachment or appliance. You wouldn’t walk up and kiss a toaster.”
Danis’ arm is the result of a serious R&D project. Create Prosthetics had to be meticulous in working on this first medical-grade prosthetic, as the FDA has very strict guidelines for these items. Suitable for both transradial and transhumeral prosthetics, and made to fit prosthetist-designed sockets, the arms are now being sold by Create Prosthetics in kits throughout North America. The company is also working with ECF to continue taking their prosthetics around the world, and especially to developing countries like Haiti.
“We’ve been working with ECF and other groups for years to get prosthetic devices to people who need them most,” said Erenstone. “It’s just part of being world citizens and we are honored to help.”
This summer, their team will be making two more trips to both Nepal (where they have traveled previously, along with India) and Haiti. Not only has Create Prosthetics made history, but they’ve changed the life of a woman who has a long life ahead of her, hopefully made tremendously more productive with the use of her other arm now, allowing her to play more with her daughter and do more of the routine exercises we all take for granted like holding silverware, reaching for necessary objects, and holding onto important items.
Create Prosthetics’ team is made up of prosthetists, offering expertise and innovation in 3D printing for amputees of all ages around the world, many of whom are very active. Headquartered in Lake Placid, they currently offer design and fabrication services but will soon be branching out to provide both the equipment and support for other medical offices around North America to begin printing devices for amputees right in their own offices. Discuss further in the 3D Printed Medical Grade Prosthetic forum over at 3DPB.com.