Happy Being Himself, This Little Boy Turns Down a 3D Printed Prosthetic Hand


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Catherine and Thaddeus

Catherine and Thaddeus

While there are many ways in which 3D printing technology is able to help mere humans perform heroic tasks today in a wide range of disciplines (especially medicine), little can touch the inspiration that comes from seeing what 3D printing can do for children in need of prosthetics.

While it goes without saying that life is challenging for anyone of any age who is missing a limb, part of the inspiration in these stories regarding kids is their resilience, positivity, and strength. Our inclination is to reach out and help in any way, especially to kids, as we assume they should be able to experience life just as we have, and have all the comforts.

And while the end results were not exactly what everyone expected, many, many people did reach out to the Campbell family of Asheville, NC, in hopes to see eight-year-old Thaddeus receive a cool new 3D printed prosthetic. Everyone was rooting for him, and a new arm was in the works for sure–especially after the story broke regarding Alex Pring. Thaddeus’ mother Catherine said that her email box was jammed with friends forwarding her the story of Alex and Robert Downey, Jr.

maneroaniAlex, nearly the same age as Thaddeus, was not the only one filled with joy as he received an Iron Man style 3D printed, myoelectric prosthetic arm directly from ‘Tony Stark’ himself–the world rejoiced with him, and it was heartening to see Downey in such a sensitive situation as well. Alex’s new arm was created by Limbitless Solutions, and one of several such 3D printed arms presented to children around the same age group.

The 3D printed prosthetics are invaluable for several reasons. With digital design, they can easily be tweaked and refigured as the children grow–meaning they are not subjected to suffering through multiple fittings resulting in products that are often finally delivered after the kids have gone through another growth spurt. The prosthetics are also enormously affordable at around $350–a far cry from the $40K that Alex’s parents were looking at previously for a professionally produced prosthetic arm that wasn’t even nearly as cool–which leads to the last factor. These 3D printed limbs are just downright hip, and it only takes one look at their faces as they receive them to know that’s an understatement.

For quite some time, Thaddeus’ mother Catherine had been working on 3D printed options, impressed with the customization options as well as the styles available that are so much more exciting for a child–potentially.

“My friend and I picked out a blueprint that matched my son’s specific needs and slowly started working on it in our spare time,” said Catherine Campbell in a blog for The New York Times. “He had access to his college’s 3-D printing lab. It would be manual, not electronic, to start. And it would be a long road, but held a huge price difference of $50 versus $5,000, and a lot more design options that kids would like: cool colors, superhero aesthetic additions, breathable materials, even lights.”

“When I mentioned this project to friends and family, our community rejoiced and begged us to keep them updated on the process. We printed out the initial pieces and kept going.”

But we all know about the ‘best-laid plans,’ along with the fact that just because one individual or a number of them find something to be fantastic doesn’t mean everyone will though–especially when it comes to younger children. After eight years of adapting to a missing limb, as well as using a rather inferior prosthetic, Thaddeus announced, amidst all the 3D printing hoopla and hurrah, that well, he just didn’t want a new arm, superhero theme or not.


Thaddeus (Credit: Catherine Campbell)

And it’s quite easy to see he’s already a superhero in his own right.

“Thaddeus had figured out how to leverage his arms, feet and neck to open jars, marker and pen caps, and even play baseball,” said Catherine.

Although he has the best medical care and has had a prosthetic in the past that was exciting to begin with and then presented issues, Thaddeus enjoys having the authentic sense of touch that he receives from just the tip of his wrist.

“I can figure out how to do stuff my own way,” Thaddeus told his mom. “My brain just works different because of my hand, and I think that’s a good thing.”

It was a revelation for Thaddeus’ mother on the morning he explained to her that he was comfortable without a newfangled arm.

“My friends like me just the way I am,” he said. “I don’t think kids would be my friend because of me. They would just want to play with my robot hand.”

His attitude is really a revelation for all of us, and an unexpected inspiration as well, as we see how possible it is for an eight-year-old to not only be resourceful and able to navigate around constant daily challenges, but to be completely comfortable in his own skin as well.

“As a mother, I had wanted to add to him, because I wanted the best for him,” said Catherine. “That morning, I finally saw that he was perfectly whole.”

It’s also good to know that if Thaddeus ever does want further help or prosthetic tools, he has many options should he change his mind.

Were you surprised by Thaddeus’ reaction? Do you know anyone who has or wants a 3D printed prosthetic? Share with us in the North Carolina Boy Rejects 3D Printed Prosthetic Arm forum over at

[Source: New York Times Parenting Blog]

Alex Pring’s Ironman 3D printed prosthetic



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