When Latasha Morris was about seven months pregnant with her son Dontavius, who is now 14, her doctor noticed that he wasn’t moving from side to side in the womb. It was soon discovered that an amniotic band had gotten wrapped around her son’s arm, which stunted its growth. When Dontavius was born missing his right arm below the elbow, Morris knew she would have to get him ready for the world in ways that most mothers don’t have to worry about, like teaching him how to explain his missing arm to other people. More often than not, Dontavius preferred to wait in the car instead of playing with other kids when he was young, but now enjoys riding his bike and loves playing basketball with friends. He has been coping quite well with just one arm his whole life, but thanks to his school and a new 3D printed prosthetic arm, things could get a little easier for him.
Dontavius, who is in the 8th grade, attends the Memphis School of Excellence (MSE), one of the best performing charter schools in Tennessee. The school, which serves grades 6-12, is tuition free, and has the highest operational score card among all other charter schools. MSE teachers brought Mehmet Gokcak to the school to help build a 3D printing and robotics program; Gokcak is a STEM/Project-based learning curriculum developer, and works for the nonprofit organization STEM Students on the Stage, which consults with schools to build project-based STEM curricula.
Morris said about her son, “For him to get the chance to be able to do more things that he wasn’t able to do, it’s exciting.”
Gokcak was explaining a few of the possible projects to the staff, and teachers chose to make a 3D printed prosthetic arm for Dontavius as their project. The teachers, along with Gokcak and other students, worked for three months to design and 3D print a new arm for Dontavius. Earlier this month, once all of the final adjustments had been made, Dontavius put on the black and red arm his teachers and peers 3D printed just for him, and to the sound of raucous applause, flexed his new hand for the first time.
Dontavius said, “It’s a new experience.”
Gokcak and MSE got a little help from the Enable Community Foundation to build the arm for Dontavius. Gokcak explained that close to 40 schools in the US have programs for the specific purpose of 3D printing prosthetic limbs, in part because they are much more accessible and affordable these days. MSE got a 3D printer for just $1,400, and only spent $50 on materials; judging from video, it appears that MSE has a LulzBot Mini 3D printer.Dontavius had input over the prosthetic arm from the beginning, and even helped choose the colors. The 3D printed prosthetic arm is the same length as his other arm, and for the first time, Dontavius can use his right hand to high-five, fist-bump, and shake hands. He can clench his right fist, which allows him to open doors, grip a football, and pick up a cup. With his increased mobility, he wants to follow his dream of playing basketball in the NBA, in part because he’s excited to inspire other children with disabilities.
Beyond helping Dontavius and allowing students to experiment with the 3D printer, the school’s Executive Director, Mohammet Turkay, said that the staff is hoping to expand the program even further and use the technology as a type of community engagement, to 3D print more prosthetics for people in the Memphis area.
Dontavius said, “That would be motivating, to have self-confidence that they can do anything.”
Turkay said, “We want to use the 3D printer to extend this program to other people in Memphis who may need a prosthetic hand.”
Dontavius will be keeping the MSE staff apprised of his experiences with the new prosthetic, so they in turn can improve the design even further.
The Commercial Appeal, WMC Action News 5]
Morris said about her son’s new prosthetic, “It brings change in his life. It’s amazing, it’s amazing. I really love them. This school is amazing.”