Two-year-old Emma was born with a defect that severely affected her ability to move appendages like her arms. She couldn't play with blocks, feed herself or even wrap her arms around her parents.
Now, thanks to the versatility and customizable options available from 3-D printing technology, researchers have "printed" an "exoskeleton" that is allowing her to move her arms independently for the first time.
As Emma's mother, Megan Lavelle, describes in a YouTube video, Emma's disorder is known as arthrogryposis multiplex congenita.
"When she was born, her legs were up by her ears and her shoulders were internally rotated," Lavelle, said in the video.
As heartbreaking as this news was for a new mother, she soon found out about a conference in Philadelphia about the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX), presented by doctors at duPont Hospital for Children. The WREX technology, according to Core 77, is not necessarily new, but its functionality for children as small as Emma was previously too heavy.
This is where Tariq Rahman and Whitney Sample thought to bring in 3-D printers. Core 77, a design magazine, has more on the innovation:
Rahman and Sample found that, with the use of 3D printers, they were able to create a lightweight and flexible working prosthetic for Emma, that is customizable with easily replicated broken parts. The custom exoskeletons are printed in ABS plastic and attached to a plastic vest. Because of the ease of manufacturing, the exoskeleton can grow with the child which makes 3D printing especially exciting for those working in pediatric care.
Lavelle said the weigh difference from using plastic instead of traditional metal was significant enough that Emma was finally able to begin playing and eating by herself.
"For a child who only weighs 25 pounds, it makes a big difference," Lavelle said, explaining that she has already outgrown her first vest and is onto her second. "It's still evolving into this incredible prosthetic that helps her to use her arms.
At one point, Lavelle said Emma called the vest her "magic arms." Even Emma's first complete sentence was about the prosthetic. One of the researchers explains in the video that they had taken the device off Emma to make some adjustments and she said "I want that." At this point, Lavelle teared up and explained this was her daughter's first sentence.
Watch the clip sharing Emma's story:
Sample said that with children, the pediatric industry is one that can greatly benefit from 3-D printing devices as they need "custom everything." Sample called the plastic used by the machine from which they printed Emma's WREX as "human friendly" given its durability.
Now, 15 children in situations similar to Emma use these prototype exoskeletons, according to Core 77.
Learn more about the WREX printed by a Dimensions 3-D printer here.
(H/T: Daily Mail)