A Stilllwater girl spent her final day in third grade Wednesday looking forward to getting the ability to pick up a piece of fruit or doing anything else with her right hand.
Nine-year-old Karissa Mitchell was born missing her right hand and most of the wrist. On Wednesday she received a working hand and wrist, thanks to a student-led 3-D printing program at Siena College in Loudonville.
The new forearm was presented to Karissa at a ceremony at the college.
The arm, with fingers controlled by her elbow muscles, is themed to Karissa’s favorite movie, Disney’s “Frozen,” in which the princess heroine, Elsa, has to struggle with being different, just as Karissa does.
Karissa has already tried a prototype of the forearm, which is fitted onto her arm with Velcro.
“Seeing the look of joy on her face when she was able to pick up an orange using a model of the 3-D printed arm was indescribable,” said her mother, Maria Mitchell of Stillwater.
Designing and building the arm was a semester-long project for the college’s e-NABLE chapter, said Siena senior Alyx Gleason of Clifton Park, one of its leaders.
E-NABLE is part of the international Enable the Future network, which seeks to use 3-D printing for beneficial projects like creating prosthetic limbs for children. Financially supported by companies including Google, it provides prosthetics to families for free.
Such technology is revolutionizing the availability and affordability of new upper limbs.
“3D-printable prosthetics are changing the face of medicine, as engineers and physicians are able to develop prosthetics that are fully customized to the wearer,” Enable the Future says on the National Institutes of Health website.
The Siena e-NABLE team was formed in February 2015, and its first project was making a hand for a 5-year-old Ohio boy, Jack Carder, who received the hand in April 2015. Gleason was there.
“Just going to Ohio and seeing Jack’s reaction and his parents’ reaction was an amazing experience,” Gleason said. “You can’t always learn that in the classroom.”
A friend of the Mitchell family saw a local television report about that donation and told Karissa’s mother, who contact the station, and then the college.
The student team first met the young girl last summer, and has met with her several times since.
Using photographs, measurements and specialized software, the students were able to design and build a plastic arm that fits Karissa. She will need several more of the arms as she grows, but 3-D printing technology has significantly reduced the cost of plastic prosthetics.
“It’s going to be a confidence-booster for her,” said Maria Mitchell. “It’s just the little things you take for granted, being able to pick up things with both hands.”
Karissa tried a traditional prosthetic when she was 4, but hadn’t liked it because it was heavy and required wearing a harness.
The new plastic limb will be much lighter.
“She’s going to be able to bend at the elbow and be able to close in her fingers.,” Mitchell said. “It looks really cool. Now she’ll have something others wish they had.”
Mitchell and her husband, Michael, who is in the National Guard, also have a 16-year-old daughter, Londyn.
Gleason, 21, is a physics major with an interest in engineering. She co-led the eight-member team with fellow senior Miranda Marnes of Plattsburgh, who is also studying physics and engineering.
Both are considering pursuing an engineering management program after they graduate from Siena in 2017, Gleason said.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.
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