The Helping Hand Project (HHP) student chapter at UNC Greensboro uses 3D printing to provide recreational prosthetic devices to children with limb differences. While the students create these items at no cost to families, they are also building an inclusive community support system for parents.
The HHP nonprofit organization hosts biannual family get-togethers for the children they have helped and their families, which allows the kids to connect with other children that also have a limb difference. The HHP student chapter helps the nonprofit organization plan the details of the event, such as creating activities for the children. This support network becomes a resource and reminds families they are not alone.
Started by Chris Cotter, a post-baccalaureate student at UNCG in 2019, the student group has been popular on campus and in the community. While improving the quality of life for children is the focus of this group — it’s inside the Digital Media Commons (DMC) on the lower level of Jackson Library where all the magic happens — thanks to students like HHP President Grace Kang and UNCG Faculty Advisor and Digital Media Specialist Cheryl Cross.
“We are very happy that the Helping Hand Project has chosen to partner with us to help children with limb differences,” said Cross. “Several other universities in the UNC System have Helping Hand Project student groups, and we are glad that UNCG has now joined their ranks.”
The Helping Hand Project began in 2014 when the parents of a child with limb differences reached out to the Biomedical Engineering (BME) department at UNC Chapel Hill. They had heard of 3D printing being used to create prosthetic devices and were looking for someone who could build their son a similar device.
An ongoing problem with prosthetics for children is that the child often outgrows the prosthetic and another one must be purchased, but with these created in the DMC, adjustments can be made so that when parts get broken, modifications can be made and the child can continue to use it. Additionally, when a child outgrows the hand, a new one in a bigger size can be printed very easily and at no cost to the family.
“The students in this group are great to work with,” said Cross. “They will make a lasting positive impact on children’s lives by providing these devices which would otherwise be unavailable to them.”
Just as the spring semester of 2020 was getting under way at UNCG, the HHP received their first client request for a prosthetic limb. Then, COVID-19 hit and everything shut down. In-person services were now being carried out virtually in Jackson Library, which made it hard to access the 3D printer in the DMC.
“It was very challenging because a lot of students just weren’t on campus, and a lot of students were reluctant to be on campus during the pandemic,” said Kang. “We were so lucky. Our faculty advisor, Cheryl, works in the DMC, and she was able to give us access to the 3D printer to complete the project.”
Although Kang had not used a 3D printer before, she just jumped all in and taught herself how by watching YouTube videos. She even created a manual for other students to use.
“Not only do we create the prosthetic specifically for the client based on their wishes, but we also create a video for the HHP nonprofit to confirm that the prosthetic limb is of good enough quality to ship to the family,” said Kang.
Kang and her fellow students completed the project for their client and the HHP made one family very happy with a custom prosthetic limb. Along with the new limb, the students included 3D printed Christmas ornaments, as well as a handmade Christmas card, since the shipment was due to arrive just in time for the holidays.
“We wanted to make sure our hand was finished in time, because we thought it would be meaningful to provide this as a Christmas gift to the family,” said Kang.
Makerspaces like the DMC that house 3D printers are often located in collaborative spaces where people gather to be creative with do-it-yourself projects and share ideas. These makerspaces are an ideal setting for libraries.