A Helping Hand for Hayden

Published on: 11/02/2016
At her 18-week prenatal checkup, Amanda Thomas learned that she was expecting a little boy. She also learned that the son she planned to call Hayden was missing several bones in his hand and forearm. Thomas, a rehabilitation therapist, immediately began to research congenital limb differences in infants. She came across several blogs and other families with children of similar condition that helped her cope and find support throughout her pregnancy.

After the baby’s  birth, Hayden’s pediatrician referred the newborn for occupational and physical therapy. Although Thomas is a physical therapist herself, she knew she had to seek a specialized expert for her son so she could concentrate on being his mom. A search lead her to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, part of Miami Children’s Health System, where she met Dr. Aaron Berger, a plastic surgeon specializing in hand surgery, and Dr. Chad Perlyn, chief of the section of plastic surgery for Pediatric Specialists of America, the employed physician practice for the health system. Together the doctors created a specialized treatment plan for Hayden, which included splinting to neutralize the bones in his arm and help prepare him for future prosthetics and alignment. As Hayden grew from infant to baby and then into a toddler, he learned to use his limb to perform daily tasks.

When Hayden was two-and-a-half, Dr. Berger introduced Thomas to 3D printing technology as an option to support the child’s progress and help prepare him for a prosthetic in the future.

“At first, I had mixed emotions because he was doing so well with using his limb on his own but was curious to see how it could help him,” said Thomas.

Along with a team of pediatric hand therapists, Dr. Berger and John Michel, a pre-medical student at the University of Miami, used 3D printing technology to create custom-fit hand prostheses for Hayden. Although the prohibitive cost, as well as a tendency to quickly outgrow traditional prostheses often puts them "out of reach" for many children, Dr. Berger and Michel are exploring 3D printing to provide children with a lightweight, replaceable and functional tool with designs and color schemes that are selected with the child's input.
Hayden received his very own 3D printed hand that is colorful, fun and enables him to open and close five fingers.
“The idea was to encourage Hayden to begin to utilize muscles in his arm he had not yet been using. A number of children who have already received a 3D hand prosthesis have reported an increase in their social confidence associated with having a personalized 3D-printed hand,” said Berger.
Thomas says the experience has been life-changing. “He takes it off and on himself easily, so it has also given him independence. He has even learned to catch a ball with it. It is amazing to see him use it and I am grateful to have this type of technology available for him,” she said.
The Hand and Upper Extremity Program at Nicklaus Children's Hospital provides care for children with congenital/birth-related differences as well as traumatic injuries of the arms, hands, and fingers. For more information on the program and the use of 3D printing technology, please visit www.nicklauschildrens.org

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