KZN boy gets one-of-a-kind 3D printed prosthetic hand

Bloemfontein architect Jamie Mitchell designed and created a Spiderman-themed prototype hand for 9-year-old Aphelele Gumede.

An Umbogintwini Primary School learner has received the first ever 3D prosthetic hand in South Africa.

Nine-year-old Aphelele Gumede was born without a left hand and Jamie Mitchell, an architect from Bloemfontein, presented him with a prototype hand he designed and manufactured, South Coast Sun reports.

“I had difficulties like holding a kettle with only one hand,” said the Grade 3 learner, who was born and lives in Umlazi.

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“I love playing soccer, where I’m a striker, and I love swimming.”

The plucky little boy never let his disability get him down, and he was even awarded the Swimmer of the Year trophy at Busy Bees Pre-School in Grade R.

“Tying his shoe laces was difficult and holding a ruler,” said his mother Thembi, who works in Amanzimtoti.

“I didn’t think he would overcome the struggles. He was always asking me when he was going to get a hand, but it was too expensive for us to afford.” Initial estimates were about R600 000 and there was not much hope they could ever afford it.

Aphelele Gumede’s new hand, which is the first 3D printed hand to be made in SA.

“Then the school called me and told me that Jamie was interested in making a hand for Aphelele. We arranged a video call with him in the first week of the Easter holidays and that’s when we learnt that this was the first 3D printed hand ever to be made in South Africa.”

Jamie is involved in the Helping Hands organisation’s project Enabling The Future, which consists of a global network of volunteers who use 3D printers to make prosthetics. It started when Claire Handby visited a 3D printing event organised by Deloitte Digital and they printed a left hand for her niece Phoebe Dyer. His uncle who works for Deloitte asked him if he would start the project in South Africa with his architecture and industrial design background.

A video call was set up to connect Jamie and Aphelele.

“He is such an awesome little dude. Even with his disability, his confidence is insane,” said Jamie.

Aphelele receives his hand from Jamie Mitchell.

“All the 3-D prosthesis that have been done have been straightforward and boring, so I asked him if he would like me to make his special and what design he would like. Aphelele was quick to answer. “I like Spiderman because he jumps over houses and uses spiderwebs.”

Jamie got to work to make his wish come true, with help from various partners.

The school arranged a special Spiderman-themed party for Aphelele and his family on Saturday, complete with a cake, for Jamie to present him with his new hand, much to his great excitement.

“The first thing I did was play and I finished a 52-piece Spiderman puzzle the school gave me at my party by Sunday. It has made my life so much easier. And the kettle is not that heavy anymore.

“I wear my hand in the classroom and my friends think it’s cool. I take it off a lot, like during break time, because I’m scared it’s going to break and I’m still getting used to it, so it makes me feel unbalanced when I run.”

Aphelele’s feedback is going to help Jamie with research and development to improve future prosthetics. The first hand was made from PLA, a plastic which is easier to print, but can become brittle and shatter very easily. His next one will be made from ABS, the same plastic Legos are made from, which is more flexible in structure.

“With improvements to the connection at the elbow, he will be able to wear the next hand all day,” said Jamie, who has promised the new improved hand will be delivered in about two weeks.

And what improvements has Aphelele already requested?

“I asked Jamie if my next hand can shoot out spiderwebs.”

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