A year and a half ago, Dr. Albert Chi, a surgeon at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and an expert in prosthetic devices, was talking to a group of parents whose children suffered from congenital limb loss. He told them that prices don't make it feasible to fit children with advanced prosthetic devices — kids will outgrow them in months, and more money will have to be spent upsizing a prosthetic hand or limb. That's when one parent challenged Chi: Hadn't he heard of 3-D printing?
Within a month, Chi and the hospital found out about and began working with Enabling the Future, a network of volunteers across the world who 3-D-print prosthetic hands and fingers for children for free. Since the group's founding in 2013 by Jon Schull, a research scientist at the Rochester Institute of Technology, it has made more than 1,500 plastic hands for kids. At his lab at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Chi fits patients for hands and creates those hands using three desktop 3-D printers he has available.
"People all over send us pictures of a hand next to a ruler; we scale the hand, and then we'll print them the proper size," he said. "Everything is printed — there's nothing metal in the hand at all."