This project began when Jennifer emailed OU’s Gallogly College of Engineering to ask about the possibility of a prosthetic being created for Austin. Jennifer was put in touch with Dr. Rachel Childers, an assistant professor of practice for the biomedical engineering program.
Dr. Childers, who teaches lab courses, mentioned the project in one of her classes and asked for volunteers. Two biomedical engineering juniors, Amanda Phillips from Rochester, Minnesota, and Emily May from Edmond, Oklahoma, jumped at the opportunity to help create a 3-D-printed hand for Austin.
For inspiration, Phillips and May turned to the online 3-D printing community, which features a collaborative space where people share a wealth of information, Phillips said. They found a design, the e-NABLE Raptor Hand, that had worked well for other people whom like Austin, have a wrist and palm but just need help with finger flexing, and decided to use it as the base for the prototype.
The Shumskys came to campus from Oklahoma City to meet Dr. Childers, May, and Phillips and have Austin’s measurements taken. The OU group also asked for input from Austin on the color he wanted the hand to be, and he has already requested an “Iron Man” theme for the next design.
“I’ve been blown away by how responsive they’ve been to him, for his needs, for my needs, just anything,” Jennifer expressed. “Just their willingness to help us has been extraordinary. These are two young women, and thinking back to myself in college, I’m sure they might have other things on their mind, but they’ve opted to take part in this process.”
May and Phillips utilized the 3-D printer in Dr. Childer’s lab and also took advantage of the printers and other tools in the Tom Love Innovation Hub to print and assemble the pieces of the hand. Around Thanksgiving of last year, they presented Austin with the first prototype.
The moment Austin first tested out his new prosthetic not only made an impact on Austin and his mom but also deeply impacted May and Phillips.
“It was so incredible to see him when he put on the hand for the first time and was able to pick up a cup and a ball,” May said. “Seeing his face light up and that he has two hands that are the same size, it’s just really cool.”
Phillips echoed that feeling, saying giving Austin the hand and seeing the look on his face and excitement has been one of her favorite moments of her time at OU.
“He was trying to pick everything up with it right away,” Phillips shared. “It feels really good to help someone who I’m sure has always felt different, and I know how hard that can be because it’s so outward and so physical. We’ve heard that he and his friends love to goof around with it. They think it’s the coolest thing ever, and I’m just so happy I could help provide a young man with such a feeling of acceptance.”
Currently, May and Phillips are working on an improved version of the prosthetic. One adjustment is making the wrist part slimmer in order to better fit Austin’s forearm. They are also incorporating grip adaptors into the design, which will help Austin be able to move the fingers in a more natural motion where one finger will stop when it hits an object, but the rest will keep going instead of them all closing at once, Phillips explained.