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Helping Hands: Art Professor creates 3-D Printed Prosthetics for Children

MILWAUKEE-- Walk into the 3D Printing Lab at UW Milwaukee's Peck School of the Arts, and you'll witness a process that helps children around the world, live fuller lives.

For 10-year old, Karuna Levie, of Brookfield, that means pursuing his interest in music.  Karuna began playing the trumpet this year, and can already play several songs by heart.  He says playing the trumpet is his favorite thing to do, with his new hands.

\"I think it's really awesome to have a hand, to pick up things,\" said Karuna.

As Karuna gets fitted for a special trumpet holder, he already received two 3D printed prosthetic hands from Frankie Flood, an art professor at UW Milwaukee.

\"The children are excited to wear them because they have a cool factor,\" said Flood.

It took Karuna some time to adjust to his new hands, but when he was able to pick up a water bottle for the first time and ride a bike like a normal child, he says it became real.

\"It felt like I had two hands,\" he said.

Teresa Levie is Karuna's mother, she says he was born with a hand deformity. 

\"I don't look at his disability as things he can't do, I look at it in terms of what he can do,\" said Teresa.

Teresa says Karuna's journey began with a visit to the doctor's office.

\"We took him to a hand specialist, who wanted to remove one of his toes, to make him a workable thumb,\" said Teresa.

After the visit, Teresa says their family explored other options.

\"It was actually Karuna's decision,\" she explained, \"he didn't want the surgery, and when I first showed him what these were all about, he just thought they were really cool.\"

When Karuna decided to use prosthetics, their family turned to Flood.

\"There was this moment where I realized to be able to make something specific for an individual, one of a kind for this person, and what they need, it was this really special moment,\" said Flood.

Flood has been printing prosthetics for two years.

\"My background is actually in jewelry and metalsmithing,\" said Flood.

Flood says in terms of function, what he creates are not your traditional prosthetics, but it offers a more cost efficient option for families with growing children.

\"It allows us to scale the model, as they grow, and print a new one, and the cost of the hand is probably $25-50 in material,\" said Flood.

As they make some final adjustments on Karuna's trumpet holder, the 3D prints also give children with disabilities special tools to do what they love.

\"Life-changing, definitely,\" said Teresa.  

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