May 25, 2017 | By Benedict

A British teen who almost died in a freak cycling accident is using a 3D printed plastic finger to get through his GCSEs. Oliver Smith, 15, severed a main artery and two nerves, causing him to lose most function in his right arm.

One of the most important applications of 3D printing these days is using the technology to fix our broken bodies. 3D printed arms and legs are reshaping the way people think about prosthetics, while 3D bioprinting goes a step further, with scientists attempting to create 3D printed human organs out of stem cells.

In the British town of Ilkeston, near the city of Derby, 3D printing has come to the rescue once again.

There, a 15-year-old boy named Oliver Smith has received a 3D printed finger which he will use to try and get through his school exams. The implementation of the 3D printed device has been a heartwarming tale, but the chain of events that caused Oliver’s incapacity was anything but.

Oliver, trying his hand at being a mechanic, was attempting to fix the brakes on his friend’s bike earlier this year. After some tinkering, he decided to test out his handiwork, but there was a big problem: the brakes had loosened, and when Oliver tried to slow down, the system failed completely.

A 3D printed finger is helping 15-year-old Oliver Smith get through his school exams

The youth hit a ramp near the back of his house, and—attempting to break his fall—put his hands out in front of him. It was this innocuous move that resulted in the nastiest of freak injuries. With his hands in front of him, Oliver went straight into a glazed pantry window several feet above the ground.

Oliver’s right arm smashed through the window, leaving the teen dangling from the raised ledge with shards of glass digging into his arm. As he tried to release himself, the glass ripped his arm right from his armpit to his elbow.

At first, the prognosis was not good. After Oliver was rushed to hospital by his distraught parents, doctors said he could have died after losing five pints of blood. They didn’t hold out much hope for the arm either: on two occasions, the medical professionals told the teen that the arm would probably have to be amputated.

Oliver recovering from his injuries (left) and the window that almost killed him

Luckily, two operations meant that Oliver would be able to keep his arm. But the arm will probably never work to its fullest capacity again: doctors say the youngster might only regain 40-70 percent of feeling in the limb.

This is a bad situation in itself, but especially at this time of year: Oliver is currently sitting his GCSEs, an important set of exams that could play a big role in his future.

Fortunately for Oliver, there was a guardian angel at his school. Design technology teacher James Wheldon suggested that the school use its in-house 3D printer to create an assistive device for Oliver. Using measurements of Oliver’s hand, the school was able to create a 3D printed finger which fits perfectly in the splint that the teen must wear to aid his recovery.

Oliver's injuries are still clearly visible

Oliver says the 3D printed prosthetic finger has helped him dramatically. “It's made life much easier, although it's taken a while to get used to,” the youth told the Derby Telegraph. I'm really grateful to [Wheldon]; he's gone above and beyond what I'd expect a teacher to do. My product design GCSE is 60% coursework and I can type now so hopefully I'll be able to complete it.”

“It only took about 15 minutes to design and print it out,” Wheldon added. “We've made a few prototypes and we are still finalizing the design. I think it's been a big help. We've still got to work out how he will do the practical part of his GCSE but hopefully having the finger, which we call ‘Claw 5,’ will have a big impact. He's such a resilient young man.”

Oliver with design technology teacher James Wheldon

(All images: Derby Telegraph)

Oliver’s mother, a pharmacy technician, said she was extremely grateful to Wheldon for his role in her son’s recovery. "I think the finger is fantastic and it's given Oliver more independence,” she said.

We wish Oliver the best of luck with his recovery…and his exams.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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