Friday, 16 May 2014 | MYT 4:00 PM

Miracle in Haiti: Orphan receives country's first 3D-printed fingers

Haitian orphan Stevenson Joseph received a 3D-printed prosthetic hand, the first on the island nation. The 12-year-old was born without fingers.

Haitian orphan Stevenson Joseph received a 3D-printed prosthetic hand, the first on the island nation. The 12-year-old was born without fingers.

In a remarkable story of technology benefiting the least likely, a 12-year-old orphan boy physically disabled from birth became Haiti’s first recipient of a 3D-printed prosthesis.

Born without fingers on either hand, Stevenson Joseph had little hope of treatment in a country where programmes for the disabled, apart from a handful of charities, are rare.

Now the 3D prosthesis fitted to his left hand has given him a whole new range of dexterity, including being able to play catch with his friends for the first time and maybe even enabling him to write one day, according to staff at the home for disabled orphans where he lives.

In 2010, Stevenson was brought to Bernard Mevs hospital in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where an orthopaedic team was working to fit prosthetic limbs on patients who sustained injuries that required amputations after a devastating earthquake.

Stevenson Joseph, recipient of Haiti's first 3D-printed prostehic hand, seen at the Little Children of Jesus orphanage where he's stayed since he was three. 

“We couldn’t do anything for him here,” recalled Thomas Iwalla, a Kenyan orthopaedic technician at hospital. “Some congenital conditions, like Stevenson’s, are pretty hard to tackle. Not even surgery could repair his missing fingers,” he said.

On a mission trip to Haiti for Florida-based Food for the Poor last year, John Marshall and his wife Lisa, met Stevenson at the Little Children of Jesus orphanage where he has been living since he was abandoned at age three.

Back in California, Marshall read an article about Richard van As, a South African man who developed a plastic prosthetic “Robohand” using a 3D printer after losing his fingers in an woodwork accident in 2011.

Marshall and van As then worked for months to design a 3D-printable prosthesis for the Haitian boy. “Stevenson is handicapped in a small way, in a way that’s not as bad as some of the other children, yet his hands are holding him back. He can do so much more. He has the potential,” said Marshall.

Happy: Stevenson and a friend at the orphanage. 

After three attempts, the skeleton-looking prosthesis was ready and shipped to Haiti where Bernard Mevs hospital medical team fitted Stevenson with it last month.

“A printed prosthesis is more anatomical and it allows more motion than one that is usually custom-made,” said Iwalla, an orthopaedic technician at the hospital. Also, once the model is designed, printing the prosthesis cost only around US$300 (RM967).

“Some patients care more about cosmetics. But for Stevenson function is the most important criteria. That’s what is in his mind. His robot-hand makes him happy, makes us happy,” said Iwalla.

Stevenson now spends his days getting used to his new hand. “It is a great hand,” he smiled, ticking off his list of accomplishments. “Now I can take a balloon with it. I can score at basketball. I can hold a TV remote and push my friends on their wheelchairs. I can hold a water bottle, a bag. I like it a lot.”

The 3-D device, articulated by Stevenson’s wrist, makes a slight creaking plastic sound when moving. “Some say that now he looks like a robot, but Stevenson doesn’t care,” said Edouard Williamson, one of the staff at the orphanage.

Instead of shooting ink to print words or images in a page, 3D printers use plastic or metal to build three-dimensional objects ranging from jewellery to guns. Developers have also been looking at 3D printers to make food and human body parts. – Reuters

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , People , People , Haiti , orphan , disabled , 3D print , technology , Stevenson Joseph


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