The Journal Gazette
Sunday, July 25, 2021 1:00 am

Group lends helping hand

Nonprofit, Trine, Grace, partner to make prosthetics

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

Kyra Baker looked forward to being able to do the basic things that most people with two hands can do: Wash dishes, tie her shoes, ride a bike. But at the top of her list was to “learn to do my hair with two hands,” the 14-year-old says.

The Warsaw teen was born with a hand that never fully developed. There are fingers, but they don't have any bones.

She could have gotten a prosthetic when she was younger, but that would require doctors to cut off her fingers. And that, Baker says, was something she didn't want to do.

“When she was first born, doctors were all like, we can take the finger nubs off,” says Daleen Mast, Baker's mother. “I thought that was the dumbest thing I had ever heard a smart person say.”

So Mast decided against that idea and held out hope that one day her daughter would be able to get a prosthetic without having to remove her fingers.

Last year her hope was realized when the family discovered Jody Claypool and Helping Hands.

Claypool created Helping Hands, which provides support for the design, creation and production of nonmedical prosthetic hands for children. The prosthetics are meant to be worn and don't require surgery, which meant Baker could keep her fingers.

Baker received her prosthetic three months ago and while she's still trying to learn to use it for hairstyling, she has managed to do household chores and can pick things up off the floor.

“To have a prosthetic that we don't have to take those little fingers off, I was excited and happy about it,” Mast says. “I knew there would be a way some time in her life she would be able to have a prosthetic and not lose a piece of herself.”

Program's beginning

The idea for Helping Hands came during a conversation Claypool had with a former colleague at Zimmer Biomet in Warsaw. The two men began to discuss projects they had worked on the past, which included developing prosthetics.

The conversation led Claypool to discover Enabling the Future Program, an online global community of volunteers who use 3D printers to make free and low-cost prosthetic upper limb devices for children and adults in need.

Then he got to thinking: Warsaw is the orthopedic capital of the world; there surely are “people who could participate in something like that who could give back to benefit the recipients and the people participating,” Claypool says.

Claypool pitched the idea to the Optimist Club in Warsaw and Helping Hands was formed. The first project was designing a prosthetic for a young girl in Warsaw. Claypool did the design and used a 3D printer to make it. “I did the first design and thought I could do more than that,” he says.

After 3 ½ years he has partnered with five recipients to make 3D prosthetics. “We would like to help more,” Claypool says.

But Claypool, who is the principal consultant at JC Innovations, realized it was difficult running a business and trying to operate a nonprofit. So he approached Kosciusko Community Foundation who accepted Helping Hands as a part of its agency.

Now Claypool runs the technical side of the organization, while the foundation operates the nonprofit side.

Trine University became involved because Claypool teaches there and he proposed designing and making the prosthetics as a senior engineering design project. The focus, Claypool says, is to take the theoretical engineering that students learn in a college atmosphere and transfer it to a practical application for someone who could use it.

Since the prosthetics are not medical devices, the students can make them at the university, skipping the high-price manufacturing and “it's a fast process,” Claypool says.

Claypool also works with Grace College, which has its own engineering program and works with families to make prosthetics.

But Claypool would like to see not just colleges become involved with Helping Hands, but other organizations and even other people in the community.

“The goal is to help as many children in northeast Indiana as possible,” he says.

For the recipients, the prosthetics are extremely valuable, Claypool says. “These type of devices commercially are built out of high-price materials. They have to go to an expert that customizes (them). It costs as much as a small car, which makes it not much of an option for small children” because they grow and change so quickly, he says. 

Having an inexpensive option helps the recipient who wants to do simple things like hold a jump rope, hair brush or a tennis racket.

“It is a great way to bridge that gap and it helps improve the self-esteem and self-confidence of the recipient and helps them engage in their environment,” Claypool says.

“I'm glad to be a part of this thing that's mature,” he says. “I feel incredibly blessed.”

Student project

Baker's prosthetic is black with blue fingers. She picked out the colors.

Baker worked with the engineering students at Trine University to develop her prosthetic.

Marissa Shaver was one of four Trine students that worked on creating the prosthetic for Baker. Shaver, a 22-year-old student from Fostoria, Ohio, started on the project the second semester of her junior year and it ended up becoming her senior project.

Shaver and the student team worked every chance they got, she says, on the prosthetic for Baker and another Warsaw girl, who both needed left hands. In all, she estimates the group easily had 2,000 hours invested in the work.

But Shaver says the time was worth it.

“It was really awesome,” she says about the prosthetics. “It's not just about the girls either; it was exciting to see their families' reactions when (they were) able to pick up a water bottle. It was really heartwarming.”

The team designed the prosthetics based on established medical devices. After working with the girls to get measurements and figuring out what would make the device functional for each girl, the students created each prosthetic using a 3D printer. 

The biomedical engineering graduate, who will now pursue her master's degree at Eastern Michigan Prosthetics and Orthotics, says quite a few changes had to be made before the final device was given to each girl. An example is that for Baker, the team had to include extra padding in the palm to account for the residual fingers on her hand.

Ben Avey, another team member, says it took 20 hours to create the palm on the 3D printer.

The 22-year-old Pendleton mechanical engineering graduate says spending a year working on the project gave the team time to plan everything out, design the device and make adjustments, such as making sure Baker would be able to style her hair using the prosthetic.

Avey says the team made a locking mechanism on the prosthetic that allowed it to lock in place to allow Baker to use a curling iron.

For Avey, he was happy to see that all the time he put into the project resulted in the girls being able to use their hand when they weren't able to before.

“It was great to see my work that I was doing through school, that I was giving a good impact on someone's else's life,” he says.

It has been a learning curve for Baker to use the prosthetic. After years of doing things a certain way without the use of a hand, Baker is now having to re-learn doing things with one. 

“I don't have a lot of patience for it,” she laughs. “I feel like I learned how to do everything in a different way and now it's just harder for me to do it that way.”

Baker received her prosthetic while still in school, so she was able to show her friends. They jokingly called her a robot, she says, and when one of the strings that allowed her to move her prosthetic broke, “A friend said I broke my hand.”

Technically, that's true.

Baker is happy with her prosthetic. She says she may get a more professional, medical one when she's older. For now, however, she's OK with the one she has, and she's really happy that she gets to keep her fingers.

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