Midpeninsula Post

Club 3D-prints prosthetic limbs for those in need

A Helping Hands meeting in November. (Eason Dong)

When Los Altos High School junior Madison Lee was young, she was forced to wonder if she would lose an arm. Diagnosed with an aneurysmal bone cyst at eight years old, Lee became fascinated with prosthetics thanks to the frequent fractures she experienced. This year, a much older Lee channeled that fascination into founding and leading a club that turns unassuming plastic into affordable prosthetics for people in her community: Helping Hands.

Every Wednesday in Room 615, around eight club members learn about 3D printing, assemble 3D printed pieces of prosthetics, learn how the prosthetics operate and get to know their community by reaching out to people in need and hearing their stories.

“I think it’s really, really cool how … we use plastic every day and we’re able to transform plastic into something that could give someone a function and give them mobility,” Lee said.

Lee came up with the idea for the club when she learned about e-NABLE, a community of people with 3D printers who use them to create prosthetic hands and arms at a fraction of the usual cost. The organization provides 3D files of prosthetic parts for chapters to print and distribute to members of the community. 

This is important, Lee said, because prosthetics with basic features start at several thousand dollars, so 3D printed ones can be an affordable alternative.

Two Helping Hands members assemble a 3D-printed hand. (Eason Dong)

“I want to make it so [prosthetics are] readily available for everyone who doesn’t have the money to afford full mobilized prosthetics, because those can go up to $100,000, and that’s literally the cost of a car only for you to be able to stand on two legs,” Lee said.

In order to bring her idea to life, at the beginning of the year, Lee reached out to juniors Akintunde Mabogunje, whom she shared a class with, and Kaitlyn Don, whom she had worked with in the past when leading STEAM week, to lead Helping Hands with her.

Though Mabogunje and Don had different fields of interest, Helping Hands was able to satisfy both of them. Mabogunje, who said he has always enjoyed creating things, was drawn to the unique way the club utilizes 3D printing technology.

“When I had the opportunity to help with prosthetics, I was like, ‘Oh, interesting, a new way to build something,’” Mabogunje said.

On the other hand, Don said she was more drawn to the idea of connecting with her community. She said she was excited to reach out to those in need and learn about their experiences.

“I’ve been doing debate for the majority of my life now, and so I’m very passionate about political issues [and] helping out,” Don said. “I saw Helping Hands as a way to reach out to different communities and truly help them to get these prosthetics.”

Lee works with a club member to assemble a hand. (Eason Dong)

Club adviser Stephen Hine, who leads the engineering program, said he had been waiting for a student to address the issue of prosthetics because he believed it would be a great display of what students are capable of.

“When we first introduced the idea of an engineering design program at Los Altos … the example that I always gave to administration and to other teachers that were asking is ‘I want students to be able to make a prosthetic,’” Hine said. “So all of the teachers have been helping us throughout this process, and now that I have this club, they’re like, ‘Hey, you finally have it. Someone’s working on it.’”

So far, the club has used e-NABLE’s files to print and assemble a 3D hand for e-NABLE to approve. When the club receives approval, it can begin taking orders for prosthetics in the area.

Now that the club has assembled and sent out a hand to e-NABLE, Lee said most club meetings in the future will involve assembling prosthetics for people in the Los Altos area. The co-leaders are planning to focus on helping veteran homes, but Lee said she also wants to expand into helping animals who are unable to walk.

Lee, Don and Mabogunje said they hope they can make a difference in their community and help a group of people whose needs are not often focused on through the club.

“[Helping Hands is] a great way for people to get involved in their community, seeing that there’s people that are around us that need and could use our help and there’s something that we can do,” Mabogunje said.

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