Sustainability

A 3D Printer Turns Leon McCarthy Into a “Cyborg”

Nothing must be more difficult to bear than the news your child has been born with a deformed hand.  That’s what the parents of Leon McCarthy had to hear and see when he was born.  Restricted blood flow in the womb kept his left hand from fully forming the fingers of his left hand.  Leon’s dad, Paul, decided to try to come up with a solution to help his son.

Leon McCarthy McCarthy cast around for ideas on how to help Leon get better use of his hand.  He eventually came across an internet video hosted by Ivan Owen, an inventor from Washington.

Owen said, “I’ve always had this vision of people being able to build their own prosthetic device at home.”

If you purchase one from a professional maker, a prosthetic can cost up to $30,000.  That’s outside the budget for many people.  However, together with a South African collaborator, Owen made a prosthetic hand from a 3-D plastic printer.  He then posted the instructions of how to make one online.

Owen describes the process of 3D printing like a hot glue gun.  He said the printer’s head gets really hot and liquefies the plastic inside.  It then creates the object layer by layer until it is finished.

When McCarthy told his son about the process, 12-year-old Leon said, “I thought it was a little crazy.  He said we can print all these fingers and then clip them all in. It was a little too much.”

However, the process worked.  In an interview, reporter Michelle Miller said, “You’ve actually become sort of a…”

“Cyborg,” said Leon with a shy smile.

Things Leon can do now that he couldn’t before: pick up a water bottle or pencil.  He can pick up his backpack for school.  These may seem like small things, but they aren’t to Leon.

A 3D printer costs about $2,000, but materials for the hand are much less.  They were only about $10.  Even better is that they can print a new hand when Leon outgrows the one he is currently using.  That certainly sounds like a hand up.

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