Un­der­grads build pros­thetic arm for 10-year-old vi­o­lin­ist

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY MATTHEW BARAKAT

The pres­sure was on for Ab­dul Gouda and his class­mates at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity: Not only did their grad­u­a­tion de­pend on the suc­cess of their project, but so did the hopes of im­pos­si­bly cute 10-year-old girl.

Fifth-grader Is­abella Ni­cola wanted to play the vi­o­lin, but she was born with no left hand and a se­verely ab­bre­vi­ated fore­arm. Her mu­sic teacher at Is­land Creek El­e­men­tary in Fairfax County had built her a pros­thetic al­low­ing her to move the bow with her left arm and fin­ger the strings with her right — the op­po­site of how vi­o­lin is usu­ally taught.

But the pros­thetic was heavy and he thought there might be a bet­ter op­tion. He reached out to Ma­son, his alma mater.

As it hap­pened, Mr. Gouda and his four team­mates in the bio­engi­neer­ing depart­ment were in the mar­ket for a project — stu­dents are re­quired to take on a cap­stone project their se­nior year, and their ini­tial idea had fallen through.

Still, Mr. Gouda ad­mit­ted some hes­i­ta­tion at the out­set.

“It’s sort of a lot of pres­sure,” he said. “You’ve got this young girl who’s count­ing on you and you’re expected to de­liver.”

The team — Mr. Gouda, Mona Elkholy, Ella Novosel­sky, Racha Salha and Yasser Al­hindi — de­vel­oped multiple pro­to­types through­out the year. There was a fair amount of lit­er­a­ture on sim­i­lar projects that helped them get a good start, but Is­abella’s case is unique to her, and the project in­cluded plenty of trial and error.

Is­abella com­mu­ni­cated with the group and pro­vided feed­back, es­pe­cially about the weight. The first came in at 13 ounces; the fi­nal ver­sion shaved an ounce or two off of that af­ter feed­back from Is­abella.

The team en­listed a mu­sic pro­fes­sor at Ma­son, El­iz­a­beth Adams, who pro­vided feed­back on what Is­abella would need to play the vi­o­lin with some fi­nesse.

On Thurs­day, Is­abella re­ceived her fi­nal pros­thetic, built from a 3-D printer, and hot pink (at her re­quest) with “Is­abella’s at­tach­ment” em­bla­zoned on the fore­arm.

She played some scales as she ad­justed the fit, and even a few bars of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

“Oh my gosh, that’s so much bet­ter,” Is­abella said as she tried out the new pros­thetic.

And the team had a sur­prise for her, a plug-in at­tach­ment de­signed to let her grip a han­dle­bar and ride a bi­cy­cle.

“I feel very blessed that I have this amaz­ing group of peo­ple,” Is­abella said.

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