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3-D Technology Enables California Girl To Have A New Arm

Michael S. Butler

At Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Thursday mechanical engineers, aerospace engineers and movie stars teamed up, all to improve the life of a  California girl.

Dominique Courbin and Michael Gonzalez are part of the team from the University of Central Florida trying to beat the clock to get their latest project ready for 10-year-old Annika Emmert.

 Courbin is concentrating on getting everything just right.

"We actually measured the little girl about three weeks ago," said Courbin." And in that time, as children tend to do, she's grown a little bit. So today, I'm modifying it a little bit to make it fit better."

Credit Michael S. Butler
The 3-D printed mechanized hand that was part of the arm prosthetic Annika Emmert received at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Anni, as she's known to friends and family, had no idea when she walked into the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to visit Winter the Dolphin she would be greeted by Cozi Zuehlsdorff,  one of the stars of the two "Dolphin Tale" movies, presenting her with a new prosthetic arm.

Anni was born without her right arm.

Engineers from the University of Central Florida made the arm using 3-D printing technology that greatly reduces the time and cost of prosthetics. Anni's arm is donated, but with this technology would cost around $350. That's compared to the cost of traditional prosthetics that can run into the thousands of dollars.

Before giving it to Anni, Gonzalez makes last minute modifications for a better fit.

"We have some pretty tight tolerances here to make sure that her arm fits in comfortably, that nothing is smushed or crushed so we get a good signal, good connectivity throughout the pieces," said Gonzalez.  "And that we have a good day today."

This prosthetic will translate electrical signals from Anni's muscles through her skin and cause motors to open and close the hand.

Anni already enjoys soccer, horseback riding and playing the guitar.

But her mother, Karon Bryson-Emmert, says Anni  wanted to do more.

"It's answering her dreams," said Bryson-Emmert.  "Everybody wants to be whole. And she's always wanted that hand. She's dreamed about it, woken up at night crying about that hand. This one she can just reach out and grab. It's amazing. "

Anni spent the rest of the day with Winter and Zuehlsdorff.

For now, the college's engineering crew smiles and enjoys the moment.  But not for long. They seem eager to get to work helping another child in need.

"I'm going to go back, clean up the shop and get ready for the next one," said Gonzalez.


M.S. Butler joined WUSF in October, 2014 after becoming the first recipient of the Stephen Noble Intern Scholarship. A Bay Area resident since 1999, he became a full-time student at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg in Fall 2012.He has written articles for the school newspaper The Crow’s Nest covering topics ranging from seasonal flu shots to students carrying guns on campus.
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