3D Printing Hits Close to Home

Can you imagine what it would be like to try to complete everyday tasks with only one hand? How would you pour yourself a drink? How would you tie your shoes? What would it be like to try to brush your teeth? This reality is all to familiar for Josie Fraticelli. After 12 years of going through life without, Josie finally knows what it’s like to have a right hand. It’s all thanks to a 3D printer, an intricately designed prosthetic device, and a brilliant and caring team of engineers at Virginia Tech.

Prior to birth, Josie suffered from Amniotic Banding Syndrome. Essentially, a band in the uterus wrapped around Josie’s wrist, which cut off the flow of blood, causing her to be born with an underdeveloped right hand. But lack of a right hand never caused her to have a poor attitude.

In an interview with local CBS affiliate, WDBJ-7, Josie stated, “It doesn’t stop me from doing things. Even if it does stop me, I’ll try it.” This  attitude has helped her in difficult times over the years, as she has often been teased or bullied by children at school or on the bus.

Josie’s new prosthetic has been several years in the making. Her father, Tom, said he began researching the possibility of manufacturing a 3D printed hand back in 2013. While this created a sense of hope for Josie’s family, no one in the local area was capable of producing what they had in mind.

Then Josie’s mother, Dr. Barbara Fraticelli, a professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech, decided to reach out to one of her colleagues for help. She contacted Dr. Blake Johnson, to see if he could make the dream of a 3D printed hand for Josie a reality.

Dr. Johnson worked with graduating seniors Justin Halper, Niki Khandelwal, and Alex Meholic, and rising senior Elena Karakozoff. Together, they studied Josie’s left hand and combined that with existing designs to create a 3D printed prosthetic hand.

Josie’s success story is a shining example of what is possible when big hearts, brilliant minds, and technology combine to do good. It also means the future of prosthetics may very well be rooted in 3D printing, to provide the most custom and effective solutions. It makes sense that 3D printing will be able to help others with similar birth defects, or even amputees. It could also prove to be a more cost-effective option than current prosthetics.

According to an ABC News article, a new prosthetic leg can cost anywhere between $5,000 and $50,000. While a prosthetic leg and a hand are different parts of the body the bottom line is still applicable. When you consider the fact that a 3D printer comes in at under $1,000 and the plastic ranges $20 to $30, it is clear the benefits of this technology extend beyond quality of life into financial aspects.

“Ultimately where this will take place in 15-20 years will be right in the home facilitated by the parents and the child interacting together,” said Dr. Johnson. Advances in 3D printing could be the beginning of drastic changes in the way people are able to obtain these life-changing prosthetics.

Josie is excited about being able to now hold a cup while pouring her own soda. “I also like doing fist bumps,” she said. Alongside her family and Dr. Johnson, Josie is looking to improve the prototype, making her prosthetic hand even more capable and colorful. Between her incredible attitude, advancing technology, and her excellent support system Josie’s future certainly looks bright.