When we talk about helping, making a difference, or donating money or things–most promises and efforts seem to pale in comparison with the assistance e-NABLE programs provide–and the impacts they are responsible for in the lives of small children in need of replacement limbs, many of whom live in developing countries where prosthetics are not accessible.
e-NABLE 3D printed hand and arm prosthetics have made their way all over the globe, and now another inspiring volunteer is making it his mission to take the affordable, open source designs to children all over Brazil.
Felipe Wiltgen, an engineering professor in Brazil, has taken a great interest in 3D printing, assembling, and distributing the e-NABLE designed prosthetics to children in his country. Creating the prosthetics digitally according to required patient specific customizations and then 3D printing them from his home, Wiltgen meticulously assembles each piece, along with the elastic tension systems that make them work affordably and without any electronics. He knows exactly where the prosthetics are going, what colors the children prefer, and a little backstory on each patient. While at the university by day, in his off time this is his passion.
“It’s a hobby that helps people,” says Wiltgen.
Patients provide their measurements as well as pictures of their limbs, and volunteers like Wiltgen are able to easily 3D print what is now becoming a collection of different e-NABLE models from the Raptor Reloaded to the Cyborg Beast. Each 3D printed prosthetic is made individually, and takes about 72 hours.
“Recent developments in bionic prosthetics offer many without limbs, a life changing opportunity…and yet for most, especially those in the developing world, these advanced prosthetics are financially out of reach…leaving them with little options or nothing at all,” says Wiltgen. “I’m in Brazil to see how new open source designs and advances in 3D printing are bringing affordable prosthetics to children all around the world.”
And indeed, he saves up funds to provide the 3D printed prosthetics, with each one costing him around $100 USD. While prosthetics are impossibly expensive for many in developing countries, Wiltgen is able to parlay extra funds into medical devices that transform the way children go about their daily lives. Not only that, he takes a very personal interest in the children he 3D prints hands for, sometimes even delivering them in person, as well as checking back on those who have received prosthetics previously.
Wiltgen is a perfect choice for an e-NABLE volunteer because as an engineer who has an intrinsic feel for design and functionality, he can continue to improve on the open-source design.
“The modifications I make are usually small,” said Wiltgen. “And these changes are then shared with the e-NABLE community. Everyone has access to these modifications and can start using these models.”
During a recent visit from Dr. Javid Abdelmoneim and Al Jazeera, they followed behind as Wiltgen first met with a young boy named Rafael for whom he had made a 3D printed prosthetic six months previously. Rafael has been using the heck out of his prosthetic, noted by the wear and tear on the coloration of the hand and arm, which pleased Wiltgen. Rafael’s experience had been positive all around, and the gratitude emanating from the boy and his parents (see video below) is incredibly inspiring.
“When we put up our profile (with e-NABLE) we thought we’d never be selected. The relationship with e-NABLE, especially Felipe, was amazing,” said Rafael’s mother. “Each message, each email…you could feel the care and attention that he had toward us.”
Wiltgen was also able to deliver his latest prosthetic to Ana Luisa, a young girl who had requested a pink and white hand. Wiltgen informed her she could even paint the fingernails on it, much to her delighted surprise, as she donned the new prosthetic, bent the elbow, and began to cry with joy, as did those around her.
“I love it,” said Ana Luisa. “I can’t even describe how I feel.”
The good feelings flow all around as children are given the use of two hands, the chance to move new ‘fingers,’ grasp things, and have a more comfortable daily existence. As Wiltgen humbly realizes how happy the prosthetics make these children, he muses that he can do what he considers to be such a small task that makes others so happy.
As we’ve seen repeatedly, e-NABLE is amazing on every level–from the growth they’ve experienced as an organization and in sheer numbers of volunteers, to the scope of their projects, to quite simply, what they do–which is to help, and change lives in doing so. Rather than being children missing limbs and standing out self-consciously, those with e-NABLE prosthetics become the kids with the cool robot hands–and the kids who can suddenly do most of the same things others can. We’ve followed instances of parents learning to make the 3D printed prosthetics for their children themselves, and multiple ones at that, recent programs to 3D print thousands of e-NABLE hands, and grants that will help them do exponentially more in the future.
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