Megan Lavelle’s youngest daughter, Emma, was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC). This condition causes very underdeveloped muscles and stiff joints, to the point that when Emma was born she could only move her thumb. Megan was determined to try and give her daughter the best chance at a normal life, so doctors immediately performed surgery and put her legs in casts. Much of the first two years of her life where spent in surgery and casts.
The surgeries and devoted care by her family helped Emma quite a bit, but by two years of age, she still could not lift her arms. Imagine your child not being able to lift his or her arms to give you a hug. Imagine being a child an not being able to hug your mom or dad.
But Emma’s life changed when her mother Megan was at a conference for AMC families, and heard about something called the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX), which is a contraption made of hinged metal bars and resistance bands, that enables AMC kids to lift and move their arms.
However, the size and weight of the WREX was just too much for little Emma. At the time, the device was designed for kids six and older. But it turns out that the presenters of the conference Megan had attended, Tariq Rahman, Ph.D, head of pediatric engineering and research, and Whitney Sample, research designer, both from Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, had been working to make the device smaller so they could help smaller and younger kids.
The stumbling block was that the parts Emma needed were too small and too detailed for the CNC system they’d been using to create the WREX. And this is where 3D printing comes in. Sample thought to himself, why not 3D print them on the Stratasys he has access to? So he created the parts in lightwieght ABS plastic (think Legos) on the Stratasys 3D printer. Everything was so light that they were able to attach the WREX to a small plastic vest that the 25-pounder can easily wear and move around in.
As you can see in the video, Emma is now playing, feeding herself and hugging mom.