Am I getting soft in my old age or does it come with being a parent? Whatever it is, watching the video that goes with this fantastic story brought tears to my eyes.
The marvels of medicine never cease. Emma was born with arthrogryposis (AMC), a rare congenital disease that affects muscle strength. Unlike other two-year-old children, Emma was not able to lift her own arms.
Emma’s mother heard about the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX), a device made of hinged metal bars and resistance bands that enables people with underdeveloped arms enough movement and strength to be able to feed themselves and perform simple tasks. She immediately saw the possibilities for her little girl, despite the fact that the WREX had been built for older children and designed to be attached to a wheelchair. Added to that, the WREX was simply too large and heavy for a child of Emma’s size.
Creators of the WREX, Tariq Rahman and Whitney Sample of the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, took up the challenge of designing a device for Emma and other young children with AMC who had use of their legs.
Rahman and Sample found that, with the use of 3D printers, they were able to create a lightweight and flexible working prosthetic for Emma that is fully customisable. Because of the ease of manufacturing, the exoskeleton can grow with the child and the 3D printing allows for continual improvements and adjustments – pieces can be designed and manufactured in a day if needed! Emma calls the WREX her ‘magic arms’ (this is the bit where I suddenly ‘got something in my eye’!).
Currently, fifteen children now use a custom 3D printed WREX device. It does make you wonder about the possibilities for this technology in the future.