Alex Linkous seemed more than a little bit excited.
“It’s absolutely fantastic!” Linkous said as he watched groups of Mount Vernon Presbyterian High School students using drills and screwdrivers construct colorful, hard plastic devices that looked like robotic hands.
“When I was little, I never dreamed I would have a normal hand.”
Linkous was born without fully formed fingers on his right hand. These Mount Vernon students were making prosthetic hands for him as a class project.
When they complete their work, most likely in December, the 18-year-old college student from Auburn, Ga., should have one, two or even three different working prostheses made specially to fit him.
The devices, he said, will allow him to do things such as take a sip from a water bottle while he’s driving, and using his good hand to steer the car.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the differences between how I go through my daily life with the prosthesis,” he said. “I’m really interested in seeing how I tie my shoes. … It’ll be different, for sure.”
On Nov. 20, Linkous and his mother, Adora Engstrom, dropped by teacher T. J. Edwards’ class at Mount Vernon for a fitting of the prosthetic hands the students were assembling after manufacturing the plastic parts with the school’s new 3-D printer. Edwards put the project together for his technology, engineering and design class to give his students a chance to learn to use the 3-D printer in a way that could help someone.
Designs for the hands, he said, came from a nonprofit called e-NABLE. He found the organization a few months ago through social media. The nonprofit’s website provides plans for people with 3-D printers and matches them with people who need the prostheses.
About the same time Edwards found the organization, Angstrom saw a television news story about a similar e-NABLE project. Linkous signed up on the e-NABLE website, and soon the organization put him in touch with the folks at Mount Vernon.
Members of Edwards’ class made a mold of Linkous’ hand, and using a cast from the mold and photographs, then created prosthetic hands contoured to fit him. The designs came from e-NABLE, and each had its own name – the Talon, the Beast and the Raptor.
“I think it’s just awesome,” Linkous said, as he tried on one of the devices to see how it worked and how well it fit. “See how it moves as I move it? I didn’t think I’d be this happy.”
Cathey Craig, a family friend, was watching via Engstrom’s iPhone. “Is she crying?” Linkous asked, surprised. She was.
After an hour of tinkering in class in November, the students will work out some last-minute kinks in fitting the hands to Linkous, and then present him with the final products in December.
And Linkous? By the end of the class, he was so pleased, he was ready to try to give someone else a hand.
“I’m thinking of buying a 3-D printer myself and helping other people by printing hands,” Linkous said.