We've featured a lot of articles about 3D printing over the last few months but, with so much going on in this field, we've been resisting the temptation to do “just another 3D printing piece”. Occasionally, though, we come across something which is extremely clever, innovative or, as in this case, just plain brilliant.
Four year old Emma Lavelle was born with a congenital disorder called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), which causes stiff joints and underdeveloped muscles. As a result, Emma was unable to move her limbs and spent the first two years of her life either in surgery or in casts. After two years, she still couldn't move her arms and yearned to be able to play and explore the world in the same way as her big sister. Determined to provide her daughter with as normal a life as possible, Emma’s mother, Megan, looked for a solution that would give Emma the freedom and mobility that she craved.
At an AMC conference in Philadelphia, Megan witnessed a demonstration of the WREX (Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton), which allows children with underdeveloped arms to move, play and even feed themselves. Developed by Tariq Rahman and Whitney Sample of the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, WREX is essentially a system of metal rods and elastic bands, which support the child's limbs and enable movement that would not otherwise be possible.
A trial run in a stationary, lab-based WREX showed promising results, with Emma able to lift her arms for the first time. The challenge, though, was to make the WREX small and portable enough for everday use; existing WREX models had been designed for children in wheelchairs but Emma was able to walk, so the new WREX had to be light enough for her to wear.
The CNC machine which Rahman and Sample had used to manufacture the original WREX was incapable of producing the small, detailed parts needed for a portable version, so they turned to the Stratasys 3D printer in Sample's lab. The 3D-printed WREX was light and durable enough for everyday use and has given Emma the freedom of movement and independence that she had so desperately longed for. Perhaps even more importantly, the portable WREX will benefit Emma's cognitive and emotional development, as these can be impaired by long term disuse of the arms.
Emma is now able to express herself in a whole range of new ways and loves her WREX so much that she refers to it as her “magic arms”. There are now fifteen children using portable WREX and doctors are monitoring Emma's physical and psychological progress closely as she's the first child to benefit from the system at such a young age. Find out more about Emma’s amazing story by watching Stratasys' inspirational video below: