Young Girl Goes to the Library and Gets a 3D Printed Prosthetic Hand

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unlimbLibraries are so wonderful. I’m not embarrassed to gush about them, because they’re one of my favorite things in the world. They’ve helped me discover some of my favorite books and authors, provided me with many peaceful afternoons, and have made so much impact on the lives of so many people by promoting literacy and computer literacy. We’ve been covering libraries quite a bit for the last couple of years, as a fast-growing number of them have begun offering 3D printing as part of their many services to the public.

Many people can probably tell a few stories about how libraries have impacted their lives at one time or another, but it’s going to be hard to beat the story of five-year-old Katelyn Vinick. The young Texas girl was born without a fully-formed left hand, and she’d been waiting for a functional prosthetic for a long time. She tried a cosmetic one at one point, but didn’t like it, and her family decided to do some research into alternatives. Their search led them to the Clear Lake City-County Freeman Branch Library, home of the Jocelyn H. Lee Innovation Lab, a free community makerspace containing, among other tools, multiple 3D printers.

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Katelyn’s mother, Kimberly Vinick, had also discovered the e-NABLE organization during her research, and she contacted the library to see if they would consider using one of the open source prosthetic designs to print a hand for Katelyn.

“We were pretty upfront with the family. None of us had any experience with prosthetics,” said Patrick Ferrell, a trainer at the Innovation Lab. “We know how to make 3-D prints, and we know how to build things. But none of us have specific experience with prosthetics. And the family was willing to go along with it, even though none of us really knew exactly what we were doing. We were confident that we could make one. We’d just never done it before.”

kate2Katelyn and her family, who live about two hours away from the library, made the trip to meet with Ferrell and Branch Librarian Jim Johnson, who took measurements of Katelyn’s arm and selected e-NABLE’s popular Team Unlimbited Arm for her. Then Ferrell and his team of lab volunteers got to work, scaling the design to fit Katelyn and printing it out. After a few weeks of prototyping and tweaking the design, Ferrell drove out to Katelyn’s house to present her with her new hand.

Ferrell admits that he was nervous that something would go wrong – the prosthetic wouldn’t fit, it would break, or Katelyn just wouldn’t like it. He needn’t have worried, though. Katelyn’s face lit up when she saw her new hand and put it on with help from her father. As it so happened, a family gathering was taking place at the house, and numerous friends and relatives came up to Ferrell to thank him.

According to Johnson, the Innovation Lab was set up after a generous donation from a library patron. After seeing the work the lab did for Katelyn, and the difference it has already made in her life, he was more convinced than ever that he had made the right decision on how to allocate the funds.

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[Photo: Harris County Public Library]

“We help patrons every day find books or this, that or the other,” Johnson said. “And to some extent, we may get involved with them personally, just hearing their stories. But … to really make a true difference in someone’s life, in this case a little girl’s life, is just incredibly satisfying.”

With the publicity Katelyn’s story has gotten, it won’t be surprising if the library, part of the Harris County Library System, sees more requests for help with 3D printed prosthetics. There certainly won’t be any shortage of volunteers to help, either – several of the lab patrons who worked on Katelyn’s hand stated that they “jumped at the chance” to help with something so important.

As for Katelyn, she now has a world of new capabilities opened up to her – but the most important thing to her, which she remarked upon as soon as she received her hand, is the fact that she can now hold hands with her younger sister Lacey. Discuss further over in the 3D Printed Hand for Texas Girl forum at 3DPB.com.

[Sources/Images: Washington Post / KPRC Click2Houston]

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