PORT-AU-PRINCE – A 12-year-old orphan boy handicapped from birth became the first recipient of a prosthesis made with a 3-D printer in Haiti last month, thanks to a British software engineer in California and a South African amputee.
Born without fingers on either hand, Stevenson Joseph had little hope of treatment in a country where programs for the disabled are rare apart from a handful of charities.
Now the prosthesis fitted to his left hand has given him a whole new range of dexterity, including being able to play catch with his friends for the first time and maybe even enabling him to write one day, according to staff at the home for disabled orphans where he lives.
In 2010, Stevenson was brought to Bernard Mevs hospital in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where an orthopedic team was working to fit prosthetic limbs after a devastating earthquake caused injuries that required amputations.
“We couldn’t do anything for him here,” recalled Thomas Iwalla, a Kenyan orthopedic technician at hospital.
“Some congenital conditions, like Stevenson’s, are pretty hard to tackle. Not even surgery could repair his missing fingers,” he said.
On a mission trip to Haiti for the Food for the Poor charity last year, John Marshall and his wife Lisa, met Stevenson at the Little Children of Jesus orphanage where he has lived since he was abandoned when he was 3 years old.
Back in California, Marshall read an article about Richard van As, a South African man who developed a plastic prosthetic “Robohand” using a 3-D printer after losing his fingers in a 2011 woodworking accident.
Marshall and van As worked for months to design a 3-D printed prosthesis for the Haitian boy.
“Stevenson is handicapped in a small way, in a way that’s not as bad as some of the other children, yet his hands are holding him back. He can do so much more. He has the potential,” said Marshall.
After three attempts, the skeleton-like prosthesis was ready and shipped to Haiti where a Bernard Mevs hospital medical team fit Stevenson with it last month.
“A printed prosthesis is more anatomical and it allows more motion than the one that is usually custom-made,” said Iwalla, an orthopedic technician at the hospital. Also, once the model is designed, printing the prosthesis costs only around $300.
Stevenson now spends his days getting used to his new hand.
“It’s a great hand,” he said with a smile, ticking off his list of accomplishments. “Now I can carry a balloon with it. I can score at basketball. I can hold a TV remote and push my friends in their wheelchairs. I can hold a water bottle, a bag. I like it a lot.”