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Using 3-D printing technology, class creates hand for girl

Riding her bike and snow skiing are in the future for a sixth grader born without fingers on her left hand, thanks to an early Christmas present she’ll never forget. 

On Friday, Abby Lammert glistened as she played toss with her stepfather while showing off her new prosthetic hand made by students in dual enrollment classes at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center. 

 “I look forward to being able to grip my bike easier when I ride or grab a comb or a brush,” said Lammert. 

 “In January, I’ll be able to grab ski poles when my family goes skiing for our yearly family tradition.” 

The 12-year-old was born with a spinal condition that resulted in hand and face defects. The fingers on her left hand were completely fused together, and the bones in in her right hand didn’t connect properly.

Since her fourth birthday, Lammert has undergone numerous reconstructive surgeries, but she has never let her differences get her down, according to her mother, Amy Cole.

The journey of Lammert receiving her new hand all began when Lammert’s mother watched a CBS special on television about five weeks ago concerning a boy who received a similar hand. 

 “If you ever watch the CBS special, there is this little boy about Abby’s age with a hand that’s almost exactly like hers,” said Cole. 

 “This hand is something cool where before they maybe hid their hand or sometimes people would ask what was wrong with you. Now, they’ll look and say,  ‘Wow what’s that cool thing?”’ 

Made mostly out of plastic, the hand has many tiny moving parts that work together. Five plastic strings control her new fingers as the strings cross the band of her hand and are attached to the base of her wrist.

She’s able to work the mechanical fingers by flexing her wrist.

For Cole, this “overwhelming” experience has been the “perfect storm of things.” 

Being the Director of Student Services at SVHEC, Cole helped create the Product Design and Development Program at SVHEC six years ago. 

Roughly 20 students in that program and the Higher Performance Technology Program with the help of their professors, Clint Johnson and Lammert’s stepfather, Ronnie Cole, joined together to create this hand. 

After watching the story on CBS, Cole called her husband to see if they could create one for Lammert using their new 3-D printer. 

 “We said we have to try,” said Ronnie Cole. 

While keeping it a secret from Lammert, her stepfather immediately went to work finding “80 percent of what we needed” and “started printing out parts.” 

 “We kept it a secret from Abby because we didn’t know if she thought it was a weird thing or a cool thing. Also, we wanted to know if we could actually build it before we introduced it to her,” he said. 

Lammert found out about it just by a turn of events. One evening last week, her mother received a call about the little boy who received a hand being on the The Katie Couric Show. 

Cole tuned into the program with Lammert watching with her. The mother and stepfather saw it as the perfect time to see how she felt about the little boy’s new hand. 

 “She said, ‘That is cool. You should build me one for Christmas,’” her stepdad said. 

He replied, “What if we could have it to you by this Friday? And she said that would be so wonderful.” 

 “I literally almost started crying, I got so happy,” said Lammert. 

When the class felt they had an applicable prototype, they invited Lammert to have the hand fitted on her arm to make any adjustments. 

According to Johnson, students went through a prototyping process where they put together stock components to find what material would work best. 

 “We had to make a few changes when she tried it on such as making it wider, added padding, added a strap, and we changed some of the hardware out,” said Jackson.

And one of the students who worked on Lammert’s hand took the extra step to make it Lammert’s own by painting blue polish on the prosthetic hand’s fingernails.

 “Now Abby has some new additions that she’d like to add. For example, she wants a stylus on her finger so she can scroll through tablets. So, we will continue to improve this product.”  

While this is the first “project that took that to a practical level,” the students have been using the 3D Printer to make things such as mockups. Students have used CAD or computer aided design software to draw up components before the product is manufactured. 

The Coles and Johnson agreed this opportunity gave the classes a chance to put what they are learning into action. 

“These young people have seen a real work project. They see why they are learning this. It’s been a good thing to see all around but to see my daughter being a beneficiary of what they’ve learned has been great,” said Cole. 

Overall, the Coles said they are simply happy to see their daughter happy. 

While Lammert said sometimes she had thought of a prosthetic hand, she said she never really put that much thought into it. 

“Now that this has happened, I feel really special to see that my dad and all these students would actually go through enough trouble to make this for me,” Lammert said.