Protosthetics, a Fargo startup developing the most affordable 3D printed prosthetic arms on the market, embarks on their first global debut today. Cooper Bierscheid, Protosthetics founder and senior at North Dakota State University, left this morning to deliver a prosthetic to a man born without an arm.
The man, a 24 year old named Jacquelin Joseph, is a Haitian native who works at a hospital. Like many Haitians, his job consists of carrying things like sticks and firewood. Without one arm, his work has been severely limited, Bierscheid said.
With the prosthetic arm that Bierscheid designed, Joseph will be able to manually clench and unclench his hand around objects and carry them. The mechanical design is made out of 3D printed parts with a PVC pipe down the center, which is loaded with a spring. Once opened by Joseph’s good hand, the prosthetic hand can open and shut around objects.
“Even having just a hand to hold something is so important,” Bierscheid said. “This wont enable him to type, but he’ll be able to do his basic job.”
Help in Haiti
Bierscheid was asked to go on the trip by Kevin Wallevand, a reporter at WDAY who leads the Fargo-Moorhead Haiti Medical Mission Group. Each year, since 1997, the group takes a team of surgeons and nurses to Haiti to deliver medical supplies and perform surgeries. The trips are funded through “mom and pop donations” Wallevand said.
This year, 18 nurses and surgeons make up the biggest team yet, Wallevand said. They have shipped 13,000 pounds of medical supplies by crate, and will perform 40 surgeries over the 10 day trip. They will start in Port-au-Prince, and then travel to a smaller village called Pignon – one that Bierscheid described as “the size of Dilworth.”
Wallevand first asked Bierscheid to join after reading about his work with Protosthetics, and his desire to bring affordable prosthetic limbs to third world countries.
“I knew we had a patient last year that we had to do an amputation on,” Wallevand said. “I just called him [Bierscheid] up and asked out of the blue if he would come.”
Bierscheid agreed, and everything was in place for his trip – but suddenly, things changed. The young man with the amputation has melanoma, and it came back unexpectedly, in full force. His arm would have to undergo further amputation, and Bierscheid would not be able to have the measurements he needed to make the prosthetic.
“I learned this three weeks before finals week,” Bierscheid said. “But I was already going on this trip. So I asked, is there anyone else I can help?”
Prosthetic arm for Jacquelin
This is how he met Jacquelin Joseph.
Joseph not only speaks a bit of English, but also has a cell phone and was able to communicate via Facebook Messenger. Bierscheid reached out by sending him photos of prosthetic arms he designed.
“Bring me some of those,” Joseph said.
Bierscheid laughed when he read it. Through pictures and messaging, the two were able to start working together. On Thanksgiving day, Bierscheid recalls getting photos of Joseph, with measurements for the prosthetic arm.
“This was a week before finals week,” Bierscheid said. A week before finals and about a month before the trip itself.
Bierscheid and his team at Protosthetics have already developed a prosthetic arm called the PAL, a printed artificial limb, and even delivered one to a 3-year-old boy who was born without arms. However, those prosthetics are bioelectronic and need to be charged, which isn’t feasible in third world countries like Haiti.
The new design, made with 3D parts and a PVC pipe, is Bierscheid’s first attempt at designing a mechanical prosthetic arm for third world countries. He designed it over finals week, spending his nights studying next to the 3D printer.
“I can’t believe I came up with it,” Bierscheid said with a laugh.
Bierscheid created two arms for Joseph, in case one breaks. While his trip to Haiti is compensated by the team, he funded the creation of the arms himself. He sees it as Protosthetic’s first step towards their ultimate goal – delivering prosthetics to third world countries.
“This is a case study for myself and the company,” Bierscheid said. “Around 70% of prosthetic needs in the world are in third world countries. The hard part is not only developing an affordable arm, it’s distributing it to these countries. That’s the next goal – finding an organization that makes sense and is able to distribute these arms to the people who need them.”
Bierscheid and the medical team will reach Pignon and deliver the arm by Monday or Tuesday, Bierscheid said. Wallevand will have video coverage of the story on WDAY.
Photos courtesy of Protosthetics and the Haiti Medical Mission.