Two year old Emma Lavelle was born with arthrogryposis, a condition by which several joints may be shortened, which limits movement and can atrophy the surrounding muscles. It isn’t a progressive disease, so treating the joint contractures present at birth can lead to permanent, incremental improvements. In little Emma’s case, treatment left her with a major obstacle to overcome: she still couldn’t lift her arms. Emma’s determined mother, Megan, worried her daughter’s cognitive and emotional development would be hampered by her limited ability to play.
Megan met with Dr. Tariq Rahman (head of pediatric engineering and research) and Whitney Sample (research designer) from Nemours / Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware. The researchers let Emma try out a new, scaled-down version the WREX (Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton), and it helped her move her arms as she wished, playing with blocks and drawing pictures. There was one problem, however: the WREX was metal and too heavy for a toddler to use regularly.
Then Rahman and Sample came up with a novel idea. They had access to a Stratasys 3D printer. They used it to print a copy of the metal WREX out of sturdy, lightweight ABS plastic similar to the material in LEGO blocks. Now the plastic in the blocks Emma wanted to play with were building her the exoskeleton with which she could play with the blocks. Mind. Blown.
The 3D-printed exoskeleton was light and durable enough for Emma to wear it every day, and the 3D printer makes it easy for Sample to slightly tweak or repair sections in the design and print out the parts immediately.
Fifteen kids now use custom 3D-printed WREX devices. For these littlest patients, Rahman explains, the benefits may extend beyond the obvious. Prolonged disuse of the arms can sometimes condition children to limited development, affecting cognitive and emotional growth. Doctors and therapists are watching Emma closely for the benefits of earlier arm use. [Stratasys via Technabob]
Emma began calling the plastic exoskeleton her “magic arms”. When Sample recently removed the WREX to make quick adjustments, Emma spoke her first full sentence, “I want that.” This prompted mother Megan to cry and point out this was the toddler’s first complete sentence.
“To be a part of that little special moment for someone else, can’t help but tug at your heart strings,” said Sample.
In other news, at least 52 people at YouTube disliked the video below, and I’d like to deliver a sound thrashing upon every single one of them Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back style.