Ewan Kirby, a South Jersey teenager who is missing most of the fingers on his left hand, lacks the basic functionality we usually take for granted. His friend, Sammy Salvano, another 14-year-old from the same neighborhood, spent the summer trying to engineer something to help: a prosthetic hand with the ability to open and close.
Prosthetic limbs are expensive. Really expensive. Depending on their quality, they can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Factoring in the additional costs of deterioration and the need to replace limbs every handful of years leads to an expense that end up being astronomical. With the rise of 3-D printing, however, prosthetics have been easier to construct at a lower cost but again, even that still requires a degree of accessibility.
In a test run of sorts, Kirby was able to pick up his mom’s car keys, something which he had never been able to do before with his left hand. The robotic limb was constructed by Salvano using a 3-D printer and, according to his mom, the teenager has been building for “as long as she can remember.”
Our poor hearts — Salvano’s generosity is to be lauded, but it’s also a reminder of how important it is we make access to more affordable prosthetics for those in need. Widening access to technology like 3D printing seems like one way to get there, but of course, what’s also needed is the time and resources to get to grips with what the technology is capable of.
Coverage of prosthetics tends to focus on the actual gifting process, without exploring the actual day-to-day or lived experience(s) of using artificial limbs. It isn’t always what the initial news story depicts, and greater awareness is essential if prosthetics are going to become more affordable, and better at actually improving the lives of their wearers.
Teen dreams — We love that ABC 7 Chicago’s video actually shows Kirby demonstrating the prosthetic’s use. And we feel a little guilty when we think about how we spent our teenage years, but that’s not worth dwelling on. Salvano’s an inspiration to us all, and hopefully his project will inspire others.
Salvano hopes to attend Drexel University to study engineering and then work for our old pal, Elon Musk. Who knows, maybe Salvano will be the one to deliver us the Tesla Bot, or a new range of smart prosthetics.