WTAMU students design helper-hand

What was once the creation for a group of researchers in South Africa is now the highlight project for a group of students at West Texas A&M University.

Director of the School of Engineering and Computer Science Emily Hunt said doctors at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children (TSRHC) approached her with the idea of re-designing the prosthetic hand model.

Hunt introduced the project to four of her students, Rikki Boelens, Marina Garcia, Alex Parra and Jared Pedigo, but it took more than engineering skills to get the job done.

"As a professor it was so encouraging to watch them take this challenge, working with a child and having to learn all about different fields that's not what they usually study," Hunt said.

Hunt's students worked with Dr. Dwight Putnam at TSRHC who provided several guidelines for the group.

"Our students are interested in projects where they see a connection between doing something in engineering and how that's helping people."

For her students that connection was Hunt's daughter, Aly. Aly Hunt was born with Symbrachydactyly, characterized by a major hand or foot difference. According to Hunt it's the most common hand difference among children.

"Scientifically it's not developed but that's how God made me," Aly said.

Aly has one bone in her thumb that allows her to grasp certain objects, more than what most children with Symbrachydactyly can do. The prosthetic hand provides Aly with the extra help she need, but there are still adjustments to be made.

"It's got a lot of everything involved in it. The modeling and 3D printing is stuff we already knew about," Pedigo said. "But to use it toward actually helping someone and helping them benefit their lives, it's a little different in that way."

"You learned your mistakes as you went along but for us we didn't know what was wrong until we printed the hand." Boelens said. "So then you'd have to go back all the way to the beginning instead of going back a few steps and that was probably our biggest setback."

Hunt said the design is something that students can continue to develop to help children worldwide.

"The idea is not that we're replacing their hand, but that we are giving them a tool to use, a helper hand," Hunt said.