Seven-year-old Faith Lennox never thought she needed a left hand; after all, she couldn’t remember losing hers when she was only nine months old.
But when it came to getting one custom-made in a day by a 3D printer, that was a different story. Particularly when she got to pick the colours – her favourites, pink, blue and purple, like the ones on the tank top she was wearing. It didn’t hurt, either, that the appendage, called a robohand, looks a lot like the pair Marvel superhero Iron Man wears.
“It’s really cool!” the otherwise shy little girl said with an exuberant grin as she stood surrounded by high-tech computers in the Build It Workspace in this Orange County suburb. Build It Workspace is a 3D printer studio that teaches people to use high-tech printers and provides access to them for projects, as well as commercial printing.
She had left school early to go there with her mother, Nicole, to watch in fascination as her new hand took shape. She stood for minutes transfixed as it slowly moved from computer image to reality.
“It’s an amazing thing to be doing,” Build It’s president and founder, Mark Lengsfeld, said of making a hand from 450g of the same kind of plastic used in car parts for children like Faith, who quickly outgrow expensive prosthetic limbs and have trouble even using them because of their size and weight. This is the first hand Mr Lengsfeld and his three employees have built.
Faith had compartment syndrome when her position during childbirth cut off the flow of blood to her left forearm, irreparably damaging it. After nine months of trying to save the limb, doctors determined they had to amputate just below the elbow.
Faith’s parents were working with the non-profit group E-Nable to get her a 3D-printed hand, but the technology is so new there is a waiting list, her mother said. Then she learned of what Mr Lengsfeld’s company could do. E-Nable provides open-source technology for building the hand, Mr Lengsfeld said, making it economical for anyone with the right printer and a set of instructions to create one . Faith’s only costs $50 (£34), and when she outgrows it she can easily build a bigger replacement.
The little girl knows what she plans to do when she puts that new hand on. “Ride my bike!” she said with a big grin.
Although she’s already a competent rider, she noted that making turns with just one hand can be a little tricky.