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Young amputee embraces 3D-printed hand after lawnmower accident

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Since Lexi Briggs lost part of her hand in a lawnmower accident five years ago, the seven-year-old has considered the amputation her "superpower".

Prosthetic limbs don't come cheap and doctors at the time warned her Wide Bay family to expect to fork out up to $20,000 for a prosthetic hand.

Fast forward a few years and with the magic of 3D printing, a community organisation in Bundaberg is making Lexi a prosthetic hand for a fraction of the cost.

"It has taken us almost six years to go down the road of [a] prosthetic. We were over the moon," Lexi's mum Janice Saker said.

A mother and daughter stand outside smiling
Janice Saker says it took almost six years to find an affordable prosthetic for Lexi.(ABC Wide Bay: Lucy Loram)

Finding the right fit

Lexi's life revolved around hospital visits after her accident in the family's backyard in Bundaberg in 2017.

"We spent five weeks in hospital, and went in every three months for reviews, had continuous surgeries, and they did skin grafting," Ms Saker said.

Lexi's doctors wanted to perform a transplant procedure that would reconstruct her thumb using her big toe.

"So, we decided to find other ways."

A bring orange prosthetic hand on a young girl
Lexi decided at a young age she wanted to use a prosthetic limb.(ABC Wide Bay: Lucy Loram)

After years of searching for a cost-effective prosthetic, the solution presented itself close to home.

"We tried looking everywhere and didn't know my work actually does the 3D printing," she said.

Low-cost option close to home

Bundaberg's Community Lifestyle Support offers disability and allied health support to the region.

Lexi was referred to her mum's colleague, Emmerson Ysayama, who is a 3D printer technician.

"The challenge with Lexi was that real prosthetics are very expensive. She's still in the growth process," Mr Ysayama said.

Man on computer looks over the shoulder smiling
Emmerson Ysayama says 3D printing could be a cost-effective solution to create prosthetic limbs for growing children.(ABC Wide Bay: Lucy Loram)

"In a year's time, she would have to develop another prosthetic and it would become very expensive.

"So, we decided to go the 3D printing approach because it's a very low-cost prosthetic."

Mr Ysayama found the right fit for Lexi through a process of trial and error.

"We have downloaded the file for the hand and we have been manipulating it until we get her fit, and so when she grows out of it we're just going to repeat the same process.

"It will be ongoing until she's not going to grow anymore and then she goes for a definite prosthetic."

Plans for a prosthetic hand on a computer
Mr Ysayama says he will be able to adjust the prototype to fit Lexi as she grows.(ABC Wide Bay: Lucy Loram)

Mr Ysayama said 3D printing created more cost-effective opportunities for young people to have a prosthetic limb.

"This is a good beginning and it gives the kids a chance to have a prosthetic earlier in life," he said.

"This is just the prototype. We have been working on this since November, making sure it fits, it doesn't hurt, that we have an OT (occupational therapist) onsite to get guidance."

The Wonder Woman Project

While the prototype was further developed, the group decided on a name for Lexi's case.

"We're calling it the Wonder Woman Project. She told Mummy she feels like a superwoman," Ms Saker said.

"So she's picked her colours for [the prosthetic]."

"Gold, red, blue, like Wonder Woman!" Lexi said.

After mastering picking up phones and water bottles with the prototype, Lexi has her sights on life with a new hand.

"I'm very excited for cartwheels, and handstands, proper back bends, and karate," she said.

Young girl holding phone in her orange prosthetic hand
Lexi has been under the supervision of an occupational therapist as she learns to use her prosthetic hand.(ABC Wide Bay: Lucy Loram)
Source: ABC

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