Patrick Ferrell will admit that he was nervous.
Earlier in the year, a Texas family had contacted the Harris County Public Library — and by extension Ferrell, who works as an innovation lab trainer in a branch — about 3-D printing.
Specifically, the Vincik family wanted to know if the library, which has a 3-D printer, could make a prosthetic limb, Ferrell said.
The prosthetic limb would be for Katelyn Vincik, a 5-year-old girl who was born without a fully-formed left hand. And Katelyn’s family, who lived hours away, wanted to know what might be possible.
Would the library be able to print Katelyn a prosthetic?
“We were pretty upfront with the family. None of us had any experience with prosthetics,” Ferrell said. “We know how to make 3-D prints, and we know how to build things. But none of us have specific experience with prosthetics. And the family was willing to go along with it, even though none of us really knew exactly what we were doing.
“We were confident that we could make one. We’d just never done it before.”
So fast-forward a bit, and here was Ferrell delivering the hand to Katelyn, who lives about two hours from the library, in Victoria, Tex. It was wrapped up in red paper, he said, and the delivery happened during a family gathering, so there were relatives and friends around.
“I had full confidence in our ability to make it, but at the same time, here’s this 5-year-old girl who’s been promised a new hand. To let her down was going be — I didn’t want to let her down. None of us did,” Ferrell said. “So I was nervous that it wouldn’t work, it wouldn’t fit, that she wouldn’t like it, that it would break right away or something. But it was really — it was exciting to watch her take it out of the bag and put it on her arm.”
It did fit, and it’s probably safe to say that Katelyn did like it.
“I will tell you that this kid, she’s just a bubbly, happy smiling kid that lights up a room,” Ferrell said. “But when she put the arm up, and she lit up even brighter — that was impressive.”
Looking back on that moment, when Katelyn pulled the pink-and-purple prosthetic out, Ferrell said he was struck not just by her reaction, but that of her father’s. Ferrell said he watched Katelyn’s dad as she put on the arm, and could remember his smile.
There were so many family members there that came up afterward to say thank you that day, Ferrell said, or grew emotional.
“I’m a big guy and no one wants to see a 350-pound man start crying in the middle of the party, so I tried to hold it together,” Ferrell said. “But I could see there was some emotion in the room at the time.”
Katelyn Vincik’s mother, Kimberly Vincik, told KPRC that her daughter had long been waiting for a functional prosthetic. (She tried a cosmetic prosthetic before, the station reported, but it just didn’t work for her.)
Reports the station:
“She’s very determined, she does everything,” said Kimberly Vincik. “It’s never held her back.”
However, Kimberly Vincik said during nightly prayers, Katelyn would always ask the same questions.
“When is my hand going to be like this? When are the doctors going to fix it,” Vincik said.
Kimberly Vincik learned about the 3-D printer at the Clear Lake City-County Freeman Branch Library while she was searching online, KPRC reported. This was the first time the library had tackled a project like this, said branch manager Jim Johnson.
“They had never done a prosthetic arm, prosthetic hand project before,” Johnson said. “So it was new territory for them. But [Ferrell] and the volunteers do like challenges and so they decided to give it a shot, give it a try, and fortunately, it did work out to a very happy and pleasing result for this little girl, Katelyn.”
The prosthetic was created with the help of volunteers, Ferrell said. To design it, the library took measurements of Katelyn’s arms, and picked a design that was publicly available. They scaled that design to her size, and the volunteers went to work.
“I like to say I got to play Santa Claus but there were a lot of volunteer elves doing a bunch of work before that,” he said.
When he presented it to Katelyn, Ferrell said that he talked over some of the weak points in the prosthetic with her family. Katelyn’s father and other family members immediately started thinking of changes and modifications to make it work. The family, Ferrell said, were “partners” in the whole project.
“We help patrons every day find books or this, that or the other,” Johnson said. “And to some extent, we may get involved with them personally, just hearing their stories. But … to really make a true difference in someone’s life, in this case a little girl’s life, is just incredibly satisfying.”