Labour of love for brother

The Dominion Post - - Front Page - UNITED STATES

High school stu­dent Gabriel Filip­pini was in tech­nol­ogy teacher Kurt O’Con­nor’s study hall when he ap­proached the teacher with an un­usual ques­tion: could they use the class­room 3D printer to build his lit­tle brother a hand?

Lu­cas was born with­out a left hand, and through­out kindergarten was able to do nearly ev­ery­thing other lit­tle boys could, in­clud­ing zipping up his jacket, rid­ing a bike, even grip­ping mon­key bars us­ing his palm.

But in ele­men­tary school, Lu­cas en­coun­tered a prob­lem he couldn’t solve: he couldn’t tie his shoelaces.

So Gabriel, a ris­ing ju­nior at Loudoun County’s Park View High School in Ster­ling, Vir­ginia, and his fam­ily be­gan ex­plor­ing get­ting Lu­cas a pros­thetic hand.

They signed up for a do­nated one from En­abling the Fu­ture, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that en­lists vol­un­teers to use 3D print­ers to build hands. Lu­cas was on the list, but he was get­ting im­pa­tient.

Gabriel, 16, won­dered whether there was an­other way. When he spot­ted the 3D printer in O’Con­nor’s class­room, he de­cided to ap­proach him with the idea of us­ing En­abling the Fu­ture’s free blue­prints to build Lu­cas a hand.

‘‘I told him we could give him a shot,’’ O’Con­nor said.

His fam­ily mem­bers say they are per­pet­u­ally in awe of how Lu­cas man­ages with­out one of his hands. But they were dis­heart­ened when he com­plained about his class­mates ask­ing him about it, and Lu­cas would oc­ca­sion­ally ask when his palm would grow into a real hand. ‘‘I wanted to see what he could do with two hands,’’ Gabriel said.

O’Con­nor said he was pri­vately scep­ti­cal about be­ing able to build a hand for Lu­cas.

O’Con­nor is a hobby car­pen­ter but was a novice on the 3D printer, and had mostly as­signed stu­dents to build small puz­zles, key chains and fins for model rock­ets – all far less so­phis­ti­cated than a pros­thetic hand.

But he wel­comed the chal­lenge, and was moved by Gabriel’s ded­i­ca­tion to his lit­tle brother.

Gabriel helped O’Con­nor iden­tify a blueprint, and worked to scale the model to his brother’s pro­por­tions.

O’Con­nor spent about 40 hours con­struct­ing the hand, metic­u­lously print­ing out pieces and as­sem­bling them. The ma­chine put in about 30 hours of print­ing as it fab­ri­cated the hand’s parts.

O’Con­nor had to scrap two par­tial mod­els that were too big for Lu­cas, but he plans to save them so he can build Lu­cas ad­di­tional hands as he grows.

Maker Smith, a group that pro­vides space and equip­ment for hi-tech tin­ker­ers and in­ven­tors, also helped O’Con­nor with the project, donat­ing an ex­pen­sive, flex­i­ble ma­te­rial that forms the joints of the fin­gers.

On Lu­cas’s 6th birth­day two weeks ago, his mother Rom­ina Bar­rera sur­prised him with a trip to O’Con­nor’s class­room, where he was fit­ted with the hand. He reached for his mother’s phone, then grasped cups and small boxes be­fore tak­ing a tour of the high school and giv­ing high-fives.

‘‘I don’t know if I’ve ever been able to see that type of ex­cite­ment or to ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing like that,’’ O’Con­nor said. ‘‘It was pretty cool.’’

The hand is at­tached to Lu­cas’s arm with Vel­cro. By bend­ing his wrist, he can ma­nip­u­late the fin­gers to pick things up.

On his birth­day, he be­gan by pick­ing up small boxes. He is slowly de­vel­op­ing the mus­cles he will need to build dex­ter­ity, mov­ing on to glasses of milk and stacks of pa­per.

O’Con­nor said he hoped to have his stu­dents work­ing on pros­thetic hands for En­abling the Fu­ture so he could teach them en­gi­neer­ing while also help­ing other chil­dren like Lu­cas.

Lu­cas said the prob­lem he would still like to con­quer is the one that sets him apart from his class­mates: ty­ing his shoelaces.


Gabriel Filip­pini, 16, shows how the pros­thetic hand of his brother Lu­cas Filip­pini, 6, works as their mother, Rom­ina Barrera, helps Lu­cas strap on the hand at Park View High School in Ster­ling, Vir­ginia.

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