Students Help Boy’s Hoop Dream Come True
Liam Joseph Richard Haggerty is a typical 8-year-old boy: curious, independent and full of energy. The third-grader from Eliot, Maine likes Captain America, Optimus Prime and Leonardo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He is also a huge fan of the TV show "American Ninja Warrior."
“Liam loves to ride his bike, play soccer and go snowboarding,” said his mom, Misty. “He also wants to be able to play basketball and baseball like his classmates, but he couldn’t. Liam was born with a physical deformity, leaving his left hand with a small thumb and undeveloped fingers.”
Thanks to the efforts of eNABLE Lowell, an all-volunteer student chapter that designs and fabricates low-cost 3D-printed prosthetic devices for children with physical disabilities, Liam’s wish is finally coming true. On Oct. 29, students from the eNABLE Lowell group fitted Liam with a custom-made artificial hand at the South Campus basketball court. After a few quick adjustments, he started playing hoops right away, dribbling and shooting with gusto. He even scored a couple of baskets.
“It’s really awesommme!” exclaimed Liam. “I can’t wait to show my cool new toy to class.”
“It’s amazing! The smile on his face was better than Christmas morning,” Misty said. “We’re so grateful to the students of UMass Lowell for putting Liam on an even playing field, for making dreams come true for us. With Liam’s new hand, he’ll be able to do things much more independently. This is going to open up a whole new world of possibilities for him.”
According to Craig Kelly, a mechanical engineering junior and the vice president of eNABLE Lowell, a child can go through as many as a dozen artificial hands by the time he or she turns 18. “Traditional prosthetic devices can cost around $1,000 to $2,000, and up to $10,000 or more for high-tech models,” he notes. “It becomes a huge financial burden to the family.”
The goal of eNABLE Lowell is to provide prosthetic devices free of charge, through fundraising and sponsorships. In November 2015, the group conducted an online fundraiser with families, friends and social media and was able to raise $1,200. It also won a total of $7,500 in cash prizes from the DifferenceMaker contests. The Francis College of Engineering provides the group with free access to the MakerSpace 3D printers and workstations.
An Incredible Journey
Liam was found abandoned as an infant at a hospital in Chengxi, China. He spent time in a foster home before he was adopted by Misty and her husband, Jack, in 2008. Liam connected with the eNABLE Lowell team through his clinician, who had worked with the students before.
“Our group got in touch with Liam’s family through Jeff Erenstone, Liam’s prosthetist in New York whom I had worked with in Haiti earlier this year. We then took over Liam’s case,” said Peter Larsen, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from UMass Lowell in May and is now pursuing graduate studies in biotechnology and public health.
Larsen founded eNABLE Lowell in 2015 together with Kelly and Kreg Kaminski ’16, an intern at the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center. The group is part of an international organization called eNABLE Community Foundation.
Alex Lambert, a senior plastics engineering student, leads the design team for eNABLE Lowell. The group created two devices for Liam: an all-black Ninja Warrior hand that can grasp and manipulate objects and is based on an open-source design from the eNABLE Community Foundation, and a “Spock” hand with the fingers in a Vulcan salute to help Liam dribble the ball. The latter design was originally developed by a team from UCLA.
“It’s such a rewarding experience to meet our recipient in person and to realize how big an impact our project could make in his life,” says Aisling McEleney, a biomedical engineering freshman. “Working with eNABLE Lowell has been such a fantastic experience because the whole team has been so friendly and willing to teach. Through them I have gotten, and will continue, to learn a lot about 3D printing, laser cutting and the prosthetic design process.”
Liam isn’t the first child to benefit from eNABLE Lowell’s work. This past spring, Kelly, who is a native of Ireland, went to Northern Ireland on a family vacation and used the opportunity to meet with 4-year-old Lillie McGregor and her family in Newtownabbey, outside Belfast.
Lillie was born with a condition that prevented the fingers of her left hand from developing fully. Her mom, Katrina, got in touch in Kelly through the eNABLE Community Foundation.
Kelly presented Lillie with a 3D-printed purple-and-white prosthetic hand adorned with a small figure of Pascal, Rapunzel’s green pet chameleon, which is Lillie’s favorite Disney character. After Kelly adjusted the fit, Lillie, who was quiet and nervous at first, started picking up her stuffed toys with her left hand for the very first time.
“Her face lit up with a big smile and gave me the biggest hug,” said Kelly. “It was priceless.”
For more information, go to Facebook.com/eNABLELowell, or send e-mail to eNABLELowell@gmail.com. “Students interested in joining can meet us at the MakerSpace every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. for open meetings,” says Kelly.