Jayme Sims of Spring lost the fingers of his right hand to a wood chipper in January.
About the same time, three Mansfield school district students studying advanced engineering started learning about three-dimensional printers and how to use the industrial robot-like devices to create prosthetic body parts.
They met for the first time Wednesday at the Ben Barber Career Tech Academy, where two of the students presented Sims with their class project — a blue plastic hand they created during the past few weeks, using measurements and photos that Sims posted to a website focused on 3D-printed, low-cost prosthetics.
With media cameras rolling and snapping, Sims strapped on the mechanical device and flexed his new fingers into a simple grip.
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He was ecstatic, and the engineering students in attendance — Nke Ebolum and Jeremiah Joseph — were relieved.
“I’m a father of three, I’ve been married 17 years and I can’t grab a bag of groceries anymore,” said Sims, 38, whose injury was so severe that most of his hand was amputated almost to his thumb.
He thanked the students for the gift that he believes will help him regain some of his lost abilities
“I’m just the recipient,” Sims said. “I want you guys to get most of the credit. I’m proud for you and honored to be a part of this.”
The device is kind of a starter hand for Sims. Because of prolonged swelling, he only recently has begun looking at them.
“There are several prosthetics that do work for these situations, but this gave me a chance to work with individuals that were trying to help somebody else — and I wasn’t quite ready to spend $40,000 on a prosthetic that may or may not last for five years,” he said, referring to the more advanced electronic devices. “With this, I break a finger and it’s $10 to replace the part.”
The students spent less than $50 in materials for their hand.
“Ours was more rudimentary,” said engineering teacher Rob Goodson in a phone interview from Chattanooga, Tenn., where he was attending a training program. “But other prosthetics at the same level that we got to cost $2,000.”
‘We can do this for someone’
The students, including Isaias Lopez, who was unable to attend the event, weren’t imagining this scenario when they chose a 3D printing project for their advanced engineering design and presentation class at Ben Barber.
Joseph, who graduated this month from Frontier High School, had only heard of 3D printing technology.
“But I didn’t know what it was, or how to use it,” he said.
3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, uses a robotic arm that dispenses molten plastic or other material to build three-dimensional objects from the bottom up, one thin layer at a time. They can make anything from eyeglass frames to auto parts to food, even some human organs.
The printers have become more popular in recent years as their sizes and prices have come down.
The online retailer Amazon on Wednesday offered 3D printers that started at less than $300 and topped at $9,699 for a Leapfrog A-02-73 Xeed.
The students have been working on their 3D tech skills since January, practice-building mostly prosthetic arms sized for children, though not for anyone specifically.
They didn’t learn about Sims until a matchmaker from the E-Nable website contacted them with Sims’ request for help. With their teachers’ blessings, the boys eagerly switched gears and started building a prosthetic based on the information Sims provided, Goodson said.
“If we found a student that [a practice-built arm] would have fit, we would gladly give it to them,” said Goodson. “But this was the actual project where they found out, ‘Wow, we can do this for someone’.”
Part of the students’ training involved studying other successfully printed prosthetics, but they also introduced several of their own innovations, Goodson said. For one, they added a part that protects and secures the tension strings that run from the back of the device to the fingers.
Mendy Gregory, an academic associate principal at Ben Barber, said the class and the school are all about solving problems to help people.
“A lot of what we teach our kids here at Ben Barber is that community service piece, that leadership piece, how to communicate and how to problem-solve using those higher-level thinking skills,” she said. “And this is a perfect example of that, reaching out to someone that you don’t know to help them out.”
Ebolum, 17, who will be a senior at Lake Ridge this fall, said he felt he was prepared for the presentation but not for all the cameras.
“Mr. Goodson said there would be ‘media,’ but he didn’t say everyone was coming,” he said. “I guess that just goes to show the importance of this and the impact this could have on other people’s lives as well.”