Three-year-old Avery’s 3D-printed bionic arm the ‘best Christmas present’

January 30, 2022
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Three-year-old Avery Walker is running around in a princess dress, with a dog called Peanut, clutching a bag of Pascalls Explorers under her “little arm”.

It’s her name for her left limb, which has never had an elbow or hand – not that that’s limited her fierce independence.

“Her catchphrase is ‘I will do it myself’,” mum Trudy Englebretsen ​says. “She’s very sassy and very capable.”

The pre-schooler, who is from Wainuiomata, climbs onto a couch between her mum and Locky​ Stinson​, 15, who began fitting sensors on the top part of her stump.

These will pick up when Avery tenses her muscles – opening and closing the fingers on the 3D-printed robotic hand Stinson made for a school project, with his Scots ​College peers Liam Frampton, 15,​ and Ben Trolove​, 14.

The trio have been through 12 prototypes, but the latest arm is more or less the final version, Stinson explains, and it’s the first time Avery has tried it on.

The trio were tasked with a community project in their Year 10 class and, at an open day, met Englebretsen and her partner, Glen Walker, who asked if the boys could help Avery.

“Locky had already designed a 3D printed prototype arm, and we were able to talk about what we wanted, which was the ability to ride a bike or a scooter,” Englebretsen says.

Avery loves scooter-riding, but must hold on by tucking the left handlebar under her armpit, which throws off her centre of gravity and has led to some messy landings.

Because Avery’s prosthesis needs an elbow joint, there are limited options available in the public service, and a robotic arm for Avery would have to be self-funded by the family, at a cost of about $30,000.

Stinson says the project has come at a cost of about $900 for materials, raised through a Givealittle page and through Wellington BBQs and Fire, which donated an outdoor bonfire to the teens’ efforts.

He already had a 3D printer, and was able to access a scanner through his parents’ business, which allowed the correct parts to be designed and printed.

Eventually a Velcro strap will hold this over her shoulder and across her chest, but when Stuff visits, mum holds the arm as Stinson dangles an Explorer over the palm.

With a “vrrrp” the pieces move, and Avery is clutching the lolly in her new left hand.

“This is probably the best Christmas present I’ve given anyone in my life so far,” Stinson says. “It feels great that she can use our arm to help her with other things in life.”

Sean Gray​, chief executive of Peke Waihanga​ – Artificial Limb Service, says prostheses are more complicated when joints need replacing, and robotic options are reduced for smaller bodies, particularly due to size and weight limitations.

The work Stinson and his team have done is outstanding, Gray says, and means Avery can begin getting used to wearing a prosthetic electronic limb.

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“When they’re ready for a job, we should have a chat.”

While there’s still some refining to do, the hope is Avery will be able to use this arm till she’s about five years old, with pieces able to be reprinted as she grows.

And when she gets up on Christmas morning, a scooter will be waiting for her under the tree – one she hopes to ride with both hands out in front.

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