Lending a hand: 3-D printer helps craft prosthetic body part for ACS student

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Annunciation Catholic School students began building Eden Watts’ new left hand Monday.

Watts, a fourth grader at ACS, was born without the hand, and she is getting the prosthetic body part thanks to a 3-D printer, a chance encounter with a Picayune high school teacher and some interested teachers at ACS. At the same time, her classmates are getting a lesson in science and technology.

Kristi Galofaro is Watts’ science teacher. Galofaro said that last fall ACS technology coordinator Derik Thompson invited Todd Giglio, a science teacher from Picayune High School, to stop by the school to talk about 3-D printing. As part of the talk, Giglio brought with a prosthetic hand with him.

“And it happened to be the same hand that Edith was born without and she was very inquisitive about it,” Galofaro said.

She said Watts wasn’t the only one to see the connection.

“One of my other students came up after the discussion and asked if, ‘I brought you $6 dollars,’ or whatever it was, ‘could he print a hand,’” Galofaro said.

At that point, Galofaro knew she needed to ask Watts’ parents what they thought about bringing Giglio back to do just that.

“It wasn’t planned. It just fell into place,” Galofaro said.

Giglio returned to ACS with a design for a left hand and a large 3-D printer this week. Galofaro’s husband, Brian Galofaro, is a physician with the Louisiana Heart Hospital, so in conjunction with the engineering lesson, ACS students heard from the doctor about how 3-D printing is improving medicine.

Brian Galoforo explained that because 3-D printers can print custom designs, in the case of artificial limbs, prosthetics can be much more comfortable because they’re made specifically for the wearer.

Still, on Monday morning, Watts said she was anxious about what she would get.

“I’m nervous that it’s not going to fit or it’s not going to work right,” she said.

If that is the case, the hand can simply be discarded and a new one printed. That’s one of the advantages of 3-D printing.

“It’s very quick and you can make small adjustments or a new product entirely,” Brian Galoforo said.

Also, the 3-D prosthetics are cheaper, as the raw material is general plastic. In addition to giving a talk about the possibilities of 3-D printing in medicine, Brian Galofaro also donated a 3-D printer to the school.

“The average person can go to Lowe’s and get a 3-D printer for themselves,” he said. “They’re very available to people these days and the sky’s the limit for what you can make.”

Watts wasn’t aware Giglio would be returning until some time last week. When she found out, she said she was surprised.

“I was excited to get a new hand,” she said.

The hand wasn’t completed by Monday — it will take the better part of the week to complete — but once it’s done, Giglio said it should even provide some finger movement. The hand part will mount onto a cuff that sits on the wrist and each finger will be connected to the cuff with wire tendons that can slightly clench the fist as wrist pressure is applied. Giglio said the tendons will be stainless steel cable or fishing line.

This will be the final 3-D project of the year for the ACS students, but Giglio said he will return.

“We’ve almost run out of time this year but I’m going to come back next year and continue working with them,” he said.

Giglio said that by the time the fourth graders are in college, 3-D printing will likely be a major part of hospital operations.

“I really, really feel like in the next 20 years if you have a defective lung, heart or kidney, I believe they’ll be able to take human stem cells and create organs,” he said.