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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Group of local volunteers lending a helping hand to a child in Nepal

Group of local volunteers lending a helping hand to a child in Nepal

Thanks to the power of technology, collaboration and remarkable timing, a seven-year-old child living on the other side of the globe will soon be wearing an artificial hand created on a 3D printer here in Rochester.

With the assistance of e-NABLE, a worldwide network of volunteers who design and print free hands for those in need, David Coleman of the Limb Lab is hoping to send the prosthetic hand to the child by the end of the month.

The recipient's name is Shaktiman and he lives in an orphanage in Nepal. As you can see in the photo above, he's missing the lower portion of his right arm.

Normally, a prosthetic hand would be out of reach for someone like Shaktiman. The cost is too great. But using 3D printers and open-source designs, volunteers are finding ways to create functional hands for pennies on the dollar. 

Perfect timing

On one February morning, a man visiting Rochester from Houston stopped into the Limb Lab and shared Shaktiman's story. The man was working with a priest in Nepal and wanted to know if there was anything the lab could do.

But the only options Coleman knew of would cost a significant amount of money and would require them to send somebody to Nepal to meet with Shaktiman.

 
 

"He just wanted an answer, and I had none at that time," said Coleman. "I was like, 'I don't know what we can do for you. That's really hard — trying to provide an upper extremity for somebody across the world.'" 

Out of ideas, Coleman reached out to AJ Montpetit, a local entrepreneur who just weeks earlier had told him about the possibility of working with e-NABLE. 

The timing could not have been better. It turned out Montpetit had worked with a local tech company, Area 10 Labs, to print off a couple examples and was presenting them to a small group that evening. He told the gentleman from Houston to come by and see the prototypes for himself.

"Hearing the story of over 3,000 hands being printed in three years and an online community of over 7,500 [volunteers] begged the question: Why not do that here in Rochester? I shared the story with a few people and found selling the idea to be almost too easy," Montpetit said.

Photo: David working on Shaktiman's hand / The Med City Beat

First of many?

Using photos provided by the priest as a reference, Coleman is now in the process of printing off the parts for Shaktiman's new hand. While the plastic itself only costs a couple bucks, assembly can take several hours.

Coleman credited Limb Lab's ownership for believing in the idea and allowing him to take on the challenge. "They're giving me an opportunity to invest a lot of time in this," he said.

For both Coleman and Montpetit, the potential impact the device will have on Shaktiman's life is gratifying on its own. But they hope this is just the first of many prosthetics printed here in Rochester — and that others will be inspired to get involved and help change the world, one hand at a time.

 
 

"Hopefully this really blows up in a major way," said Coleman. "We've got a lot of talented minds here in Rochester and it sounds like that attitude [of collaboration] is only going forward."

Want to get involved? Limb Lab will host a "Printathon" on Friday, April 1 from 5:30-8:00 p.m for anyone interested in learning more about the cause.


About Sean Baker: Sean is the founder and editor of the Med City Beat. Under his direction, the site has transitioned from a small news blog to one of the most widely-read publications in the city. Prior to launching the site in 2014, Sean spent about two years producing television news in Green Bay and Rochester. His office is above a brewery, so please excuse any typos. Twitter.


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(Cover photo: Example / e-NABLE)

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