Oct 17, 2016 | By Alec
That 3D printing can save lives is hardly a secret; just look at conjoined twins Anias and Jadon McDonald, who have just been given a fighting change through 3D printing and 3D scanning platforms. But 3D printing can also help to make the lives of those people who’ve survived medical nightmares a bit more normal. That is exactly what’s happening to the 11-year-old British girl Tilly Lockey, who has begun testing 3D printed prosthetic arms for 3D printed bionic pioneer Open Bionics, after losing both hands to meningitis as a baby. Their latest success is a fantastic arm inspired by the Deus Ex video game, which can even give a thumbs up.
Tilly is actually actively involved in the development of these bionics, by testing them, providing feedback and travelling around the world to raise awareness and funds for 3D printed prostheses. The inspiring girl takes after her mother Sarah, who has been a campaigner and fundraiser for meningitis since 2007 – when Tilly herself nearly died of the disease. Now, almost ten years later, Tilly is determined to work with the world’s best developers to develop the next generation of prosthetic limbs that give these children a chance to live a normal, active life.
This is even more amazing because Tilly was left very disabled after developing Group B meningococcal septicaemia – meningitis – as a baby. As a result, she lost both hands, her toes, and probably will suffer from stunted growth over the coming years. The disease even destroyed her baby teeth, and left her adult teeth severely underdeveloped. Even now, nearly a decade after developing the disease, hospital visits are a very common part of her life.
But even with this situation, her parents Sarah and Adam count themselves as blessed. Back in 2007, there was no vaccination for this deadly form of meningitis, and Tilly very nearly died. While originally a very healthy baby girl, Tilly contracted the disease when she was just 15 months old. Suddenly she started to lose all energy and developing bluey grey mottled spots. “The marks did not disappear and instantly meningitis came into my head,” her mother recalled. “I ran to the telephone and called an ambulance mentioning all the symptoms of rapid breathing, high temperature, not interested in anything and not wanting to be picked up and especially the marks on her skin. I told them that I thought it was meningitis. They were ready for her and they agreed that it looked like meningitis and they gave her a shot of penicillin straight away. Thank God they did that – otherwise I don’t think Tilly would have made it to the hospital.”
What followed was the kind of situation that no parent should ever be forced to go through. “I felt so helpless like there was nothing I could do to stop this,” Tilly’s mother recalled. “They were cutting her clothes off her, putting tubes in and a consultant sat me down and said, ‘I think you better sit down, it looks very severe and your daughter looks likely to die’.” Check out Tilly’s full story here.
In the end, nine blood transfusions saved her life, though the recovery process was very long and arduous. Thankfully, the meningitis doesn’t seem to have affected the girl’s brain, but her toes started dropping off one by one, and her hands needed to be amputated as well. One of her legs is also shorter than the other, and it has stopped growing altogether. “When Tilly’s baby teeth dropped out and her adult teeth started to develop, they grew already decayed, so Tilly has to attend numerous dental appointments to keep them capped. Sometimes the caps can come off and she gets really self-conscious, especially when it happens at school,” Sarah added.
Since that excruciating time, Tilly’s family has been working very hard to increase awareness for meningitis around the world, especially through various charities backed by numerous British and international celebrities. Tilly is also in the spotlight frequently, raising awareness and raising funds for her own prosthetic hands – that easily cost $20,000 a set. “Tilly likes to be in media and she likes to help with the prosthetic companies. It makes her feel like she is doing something to help,” her mother says. Among others, she was one of the stars at Comic-Con in San Diego, where she talked about her own experiences.
The Lockey family came into contact with Open Bionics through those activities – the startup founded in 2013 by Joel Gibbard with the goal of developing a low-cost prosthetic alternative through 3D printing. Starting out in his own bedroom, the robotics graduate from Plymouth University quickly found crowdfunding success for his project and backing from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory. Open Bionics recently won the UK James Dyson Award, and is aiming for a release sometime next year. “We were shown a video link of what Open Bionics and Deus Ex wanted to develop and showcase at San Diego Comic-Con and we were blown away. It got us really excited about prosthetics again. Tilly loves heroes and super powers, as well as gaming and fashion, so it just seemed like all of this rolled into one,” her mom recalled.
To actually make the prosthetic, Open Bionics sent a 3D scanner by mail, enabling Tilly’s parents to scan one of her arms. That data was subsequently used to build a model, enabling Open Bionics to test their designs on an actual patient. The arm itself was based on Deus Ex’s Adam Jenson, who wears a very cool bionic arm in Deus Ex, and game developer Eidos Montreal was also actively involved. “Tilly is happy working alongside Open Bionics and she is loving everything about the experience. I think this opportunity came at the right time for Tilly as she had just started to lose a little bit of her confidence and this has brought it back,” her mother says.
Tilly especially loves the superhero theme of the arm. “You can do these great poses with them. You can give a thumbs up. It is really cool,” she told The Mirror. “Personally I like looking like a superhero. I like looking unique.” Tilly’s feedback, especially about heat, weight and fit, is currently being used to update the Open Bionic designs. “It is really helping them – they need to work with the kids who are going to be wearing them. They can’t feel how it works and how it’s used by an 11-year-old. That is where Tilly comes in.”
What’s more, the bionic hand is a huge eye catcher at events, and perfectly showcases the need for alternative bionic arm solutions. Aside from Comic Con and several other events, Tilly even wore it to the White House last month. The robotic look was also a very conscious decision, says Sam Payne of Open Bionics. “A human arm design will only create the appearance of seeking to hide a missing limb,” he says. What’s more, we can add fantastic extras, such as lights and compartments.” Tilly agrees, saying that people now don’t pity her, but think she’s very cool instead.
But regardless of what the hand brings to the table, Tilly is determined to live her life to the fullest. “I’ve found ways to do stuff on my own,” she says. “I’ll teach myself to do things. I was watching my grandma open packets and I saw she did it with her teeth. So I practiced and I kept trying and I’ve worked out how to do it myself.” And that determination is most inspiring of all.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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