May 21, 2016

Though 3D printing can fundamentally change so many industries, its biggest impact can surely be in the medical field. This is again emphasized by the dramatic story Romeo Tucci of Cambridge Bay, a small town in the arctic wastes of Canada. In early April, both of Tucci’s hands were irreparably damaged in a dramatic frostbite incident. The young chef felt his whole world slip from his fingers. But thanks to the help of his sister, a successful gofundme campaign and the World of 3D Printing engineering service, Tucci is getting a second chance at life with a pair of 3D printed bionic hands.

Tucci’s terrible accident can happen to anyone living in the northern wastes of Canada. While walking back to his cabin last month, Tucci was overwhelmed by a complete whiteout storm. Soaked and disoriented, he fell through a crack in the ice. As his sister Christina revealed, he managed to get out of the ice but was lost for over six hours in -50 degree weather, wandering around aimlessly and blind. “RCMP could not go look for him as it was not 24 hours of being missing. A search party of family and friends was about to go out and look for him, he miraculously came stumbling up the road. He was rushed to hospital with severe frostbite to 95 % of both his hands,” she says.

By the time he arrived, his hands were frozen solid like a rock and white as paper. While frostbite is extremely risky, you can recover through a long and extremely painful process. But once your blood vessels freeze, the damage is irreversible. Problematically, the full extent of frostbite damage won’t become visible for a few weeks. “The thing about frostbite is, the damage is done right at the start,” explains Nunavut’s chief of medical staff Dr. Sandy McDonald. “The first thing is to rewarm it, it’s to bring the tissue back up to normal temperature. And the second thing is to protect the area, because you don’t want any further damage to take place.” But it can take weeks before it becomes clear what tissue will recover, and what needs to be removed.

In Tucci’s case, it became clear after three weeks that amputation was the only option, because gangrene had set in. Tucci was sent on to Edmonton for further treatment. The amputation took place on April 5, and just about everything above the wrist was removed. “I’m scared,” Tucci told CBC News. “I’m a chef. I need my hands.”

But these tragic events also bring out the best in people. Thanks to his sister’s efforts on gofundme, more than $12,000 has been raised to cover rehabilitation costs. “We are looking to raise money for medical expenses, hotel and airfare. Anything helps. We thank each and every one of you for all your love and support through this difficult time,” Christina wrote in a heartwarming appeal. In the meantime, Tucci did everything he could to rehabilitate. After surgery, Tucci went to the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton, where he was taught basic life skills, including painting. Upon his return to Cambridge Bay, he even managed to cook again in his kitchen.

But thanks to Christina’s online efforts, Tucci’s story also reached Justin Brawley, the owner of Virginia-based 3D printing solutions provider World of 3D Printing. He quickly agreed to help Tucci as best as he could. “An amazing soul who has stepped up to offer my brother a bionic hand a second chance at life,” Christina said in an update on gofundme. “We will need to raise money for us to travel to him to get the hand fitted and have him teach us how to use it. Thank you Justin Brawley for making a difference in people’s lives! You are truly a Godsend and no words can ever thank you enough.”

Over the past few weeks, Brawley has been working hard to develop two 3D printed prosthetics for Tucci, with the help of the online 3D printing community. The bionics (called ‘Hackberries’) will have flexible wrists and partially motorized fingers, and will be attached the arm muscles through sensors. “So when you squeeze the forearm it sends a signal to that hand that tells it to open and close,” he told Nunatsiaq News.

So far, Brawly has already completed the right hand. He has also set up a gofundme page to help realize development of the Hackberry bionics. “We could really use everyone’s love, support, help and shares to make this possible in order for us to meet and get her brother some hands. We need to receive some donations in order to travel so that we can get together in person and to complete the second hand as the first hand I have came out of pocket,” he said. Tucci’s 3D printed bionic prosthetics are expected to cost several hundred dollars each – still much cheaper than $50,000 conventional prosthetics. Brawley also hopes to bring the Hackberry to more people around the world in the near future.




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