A team of doctors and 3D printing enthusiasts in St. Petersburg, FL recently helped 61 year old Francisco Piedra receive a new set of 3D printed prosthetic hands after a complication during heart surgery required amputating his hands and legs below the knee. In the spring of 2016, Piedra was diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis, a disease that made it difficult for his heart valve to pump blood. Later, severe chest pains sent Piedra to the emergency room where he was told he was also suffering from coronary artery disease. Piedra’s primary care physician, Dr. Luis Jovel, told him an aortic valve replacement would help his heart pump blood, and a bypass graft would improve the flow in his coronary arteries.
After a successful surgery on July 12, Doctors went back the next day to perform the bypass. During the procedure, they gave Piedra Heparin, a medication routinely used to stop blood clots. However, in rare cases, patients can experience bad reactions to the medication and instead of preventing blood clots, it can produce them.
Due to a build up of dead tissue from the loss of circulation, surgeons had no choice but to amputate Piedra’s hands and legs below the knees. Dr. Jovel was shocked when he heard the news from Piedra’s wife and ended up referring Piedra to the Hanger Clinic, which offers support and prosthetic limbs. Piedra was eager to get back on his feet and start working again, but prosthetic legs would cost $15,000 and a pair of hands upward of $100,000. The Hanger Clinic generously provided the legs for free, which allowed Piedra to stand up for the first time in months. Slowly, he learned to walk again without needing his four legged walker.
After the amputations, he remembers thinking, “What am I going to do for the rest of my life?”
The high cost of prosthetic hands was preventing Piedra from getting his life back. Dr. Jovel’s medical assistant, Danielle Ayala, was tasked with finding Piedra an affordable a set of hands since he lost his insurance when he stopped working and disability insurance would take a year to become active.
Ayala soon discovered that 3D printing prosthetic hands would be the most cost effective and versatile option. She contacted The University of South Florida and they agreed to let her use one of their 3D printers to create small scale models. Ayala then reached out to e-NABLE, which has helped so many others who have lost hands and arms by providing 3D printed prosthetics.
E-Nable referred Ayala to a local chapter in Tampa Bay, a Wimauma group called Handling the Future. The chapter is led by Richard Brown and has members who are residents of Valencia Lakes, a community for people 55 and over. The process to 3D print the hands started after Ayala sent Brown photos of Piedra’s hands.
Brown ended up printing the right hand from his own 3D printer in New York, while Glenn Brown, an unrelated member of the chapter, produced the other from his 3D printer in Wimauma. Each finger was 3D printed separately since they required different designs. It took about 20 hours to 3D print each hand.
A 3D printed pin was used to secure all the pieces in place. Richard Brown ran wires through each finger and used strong rubber bands on the top part of the hand to act like tendons.
Members of Handling the Future drove to St. Petersburg on November 17 and presented the hands to Piedra in the lobby of Dr. Jovel’s office. Richard Brown showed Piedra how flexing his wrist will create a fist and allow him to grasp and hold objects. Although they weren’t a perfect fit, it helped show the value of 3D printing since they have the ability to quickly and affordably revise the design and print out new pieces in a matter of days. They also explained the limitations, like how Piedra wouldn’t be able to put them near hot water or even hold a hot cup of coffee as the plastic could start to melt.
“Wow,” Piedra said. “That’s going to be a lot better than what I have now.”
Castings of Piedra’s wrists will be created next. This will allow them to customize the hands and create multiple pairs for different activities, like working or fishing.
“We’re more than willing to do what we can,” Brown said.
With the support from family, friends and Dr. Jovel, Piedra is making steady progress. He misses his job as a sheet metal worker in Largo, but his boss said it would be waiting for him once he was ready. A new set of hands will make it possible for him to return to the days on his boat with his family.
“I want to be back as normal as I possibly can,” he said.
Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.[Source: Kaplan Herald/Images: Scott Keller]