While watching five-year-old Hailey Dawson stride out to the Baltimore Orioles pitcher’s mound you can’t help but notice how nonchalant she is about the whole experience. After effortly tossing out the first pitch and even getting to fist bump her favorite player, third baseman Manny Machado, this is a girl who is completely comfortable in her skin. She may have a 3D printed hand, but all that means to her is that no one else has a hand quite as cool as hers.
Being born with Poland Syndrome left Hailey with a flat pectoral muscle and deformities in her fingers that prevent her from doing things most of us take for granted, like holding a baseball. After hearing about the Robohand and how 3D printers were creating low cost prosthetics, Hailey’s mother Yong Dawson took a chance and contacted a professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) to see if he could help. As UNLV’s chair of medical engineering, Brendan O’Toole was more than happy to take on the challenge.
With the information on the open source Robohand, O’Toole collected a group of volunteers including high school students, undergrads and even interns to help customise a device just for Hailey. The group is now on their fourth and most advanced iteration of the device which they call the Flexy-Hand. For the most part the device is actually quite a simple design. Her hand fits snugly inside of the Flexy-Hand and when she moves her wrist, durable fishing line connecting the 3d printed fingers to her wrist will cause the fingers to open and close. Because of the clever design, that simple wrist motion allows her to grip just as firmly as with her other hand.
After almost two years of development, O’Toole and his team are still perfecting the device and hope to develop a way for her to move each finger independently. Obviously everyone at UNLV will eventually benefit from this research, just like Hailey has, but seeing her effortlessly tossing a baseball with her prosthetic must have been a great experience for its designers. Although last March the team watched her throw out a ball for a UNLV baseball game, this is the first time they would have seen this version in action.
Hailey and her family live in Las Vegas, but they all grew up as diehard Orioles fans thanks to their father who is originally from Baltimore. When Dawson contacted the Orioles to see if a meet-up with her daughter’s favorite player would be possible the team very quickly said yes. And not only did she get to meet Manny Machado, but he even signed her Orioles orange Flexy-Hand, giving her a very unique piece of sports memorabilia that no one else will ever have.
“What do you do when John Angelos, exec VP of the Baltimore Orioles, calls you and wants to talk about your daughter? You kind of scream internally and have a 30 minute discussion while the whole time you’re thinking OMG is this for real? He tells you he’s coming up with some ideas and wants to have further discussions. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would ever happen. I get to see dreams come true for the 3 most important people in my life.” Dawson said on Instagram after finding out that Hailey would be throwing out the first pitch.
Take a look at some Orioles footage of Hailey throwing out the first pitch with her brother:
Dawson may not have ever expected the Orioles to give her daughter the honor of throwing out the first pitch, but Hailey doesn’t even seem phased by it. In fact, she seems to almost be thinking ‘of course, why wouldn’t they ask me to throw out the first pitch’. And more importantly, her appearance at a major league baseball game is giving further exposure to the possibilities of 3D printing and low cost prosthetic devices.
You can find out more about the Robohand 3D printable hand prostheses on their website where you can download the 3D files to print your own, or just discover ways to chip in. Let us know what you think of this story over on our Five Year Old With 3D Printed Hand Throws the First Pitch forum at 3DPB.com.