The World of DIY Prosthetics

VIDEO: Medical professionals have made significant progress in returning amputees to a normal life.
ABCNEWS.com

With new technology, prosthetics have never been more adaptable or customizable. As a result, more and more people who need prosthetics are turning to DIY methods of creating the perfect prosthetic.

Using nontraditional materials and methods such as 3-D printers and Legos, people have created prosthetics that have gone far beyond the usual unmoving plastic imitation of a leg, arm or hand. Nonprofessionals, including puppeteers and even high school students, have been able to develop specially made prosthetics for a lower cost than the professionally fitted prosthetics.

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Matt Albuquerque, president of Next Step Orthotics and Prosthetics, said he thinks it's great that people have taken to customizing their own prosthetics or adding elements of personal style so that it becomes a piece they want to show off.

"There's so many different options to [make a prosthesis] in such a way that the person is happy about showing it off," said Albuquerque. "I think that it's been wonderful for people who think they had to wear long pants all the time," to hide their prosthesis.

"It really is, 'I am amputee, hear me roar'," said Albuquerque of the new custom specializations.

The World of DIY Prosthetics

PHOTO: Sun Jifa raises up his prosthetic forearms as he poses for a picture in Yong Ji county, Jilin province, Sept. 25, 2012.
Sheng Li/Reuters
Man Builds Prosthetic Arms Over 8 Years

Sun Jifa, a Chinese farmer, spent eight years building the perfect pair of new arms after he lost his in an explosive accident.

Lacking the money to pay for a high-priced pair, Jifa initially had a lower-quality model that didn't work very well. Eventually he decided to craft his own, according to New Tang Dynasty (NTD) Television.

Jifa spent the next eight years working on a pair of bionic steel arms that allow him to pick up utensils and light cigarettes. Unable to do enough work on the farm to make a living, Jifa now survives by selling his lower-priced prosthetics to other amputees.

"By using these hands, I can help the family with chores," Jifa told NTD. "I can do some farm work, I'm not useless. I really feel a weight has lifted. I feel I'm not a freeloader. I can be useful."

The World of DIY Prosthetics

PHOTO: Easton LaChappelle poses with an earlier version of his robotic arm.
Courtesy Mike Basher/Mikebasher.com
A Robot Arm Controlled by Brainwaves and Created by Teen

At just 17, Easton LaChappelle created a science fair project so advanced it won him a trip to NASA. LaChappelle created a robot prosthetic arm that is entirely controlled by brainwaves via a specially designed helmet.

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Not only did LaChappelle win second place at the nation's top science fair, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, he got to visit the White House, where President Obama inspected the arm himself. Last summer he was given a chance to intern in NASA's Robonaut program, where soon even astronauts will be made of circuits and wires.

The World of DIY Prosthetics

PHOTO: Colin MacDuff created a prosthetic finger out of bicycle parts.
KOMO/ABC News
Amputee Makes Finger From Bike Parts

After losing a finger in a shooting accident, Colin Macduff was told by his doctor he would just have to get used to life without all 10 digits. Instead of listening, Macduff decided he would make his own prosthetic finger, from bicycle parts.

To create a replacement middle finger, Macduff, an avid bike rider and former welder, started by cutting into a pair of handle bars at his local bike shop before eventually developing the prototype for his prosthetic finger.

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The result was so successful Macduff has made additional figures for customers with similar injuries. Each is custom built during a 10- to 12-week process that starts with the customer's sending copies of their handprints to Macduff.

"When an amputee loses their finger, they're going through an extreme emotional loss," Macduff told ABCNews.com. "This is giving people hope back, functionality. We're putting people back to work."

The World of DIY Prosthetics

PHOTO: Christina Stephens built this prosthetic with Legos.
Courtesy Christina Stephens
The Incredible Lego Leg

Christina Stephens decided to make a new leg out of Legos after her co-worker dared her.

"I liked the idea, because I am very comfortable with my body and like encouraging others to be more comfortable with theirs," she said.

Stephens lost her foot after it was crushed in a car in 2012. She has since documented her life as an amputee on her YouTube channel. The Lego prosthetic may not have been the most functional, but it was definitely attention-getting.

A time lapse video of Stephens creating her new leg has been viewed more than 1.5 million times.

"I like having this extra space below my stump that other people don't have that I can explore," Stephens said. "It makes me feel superhuman."

For Halloween, Stephens made a thematic pumpkin leg. While festive, it was not very practical and started to disintegrate after a few laps in her backyard.

The World of DIY Prosthetics

PHOTO: Johannesburg Robohand inventor Richard van As, shows hands that he has made using cables, 3D printing, screws and thermoplastic, Aug. 20, 2013.
Denis Farrell/AP Photo
A 3-D Printed Prosthetic Hand From A Puppeteer

New technology has allowed inventors to use 3-D printers to create everything from a bionic ear to a working gun. A puppeteer was even able to use the technology to create a downloadable blueprint for a prosthetic hand.

Rather than the thousands of dollars it might cost to have a prosthesis fit a new hand, Ivan Owen, special-effects designer and puppeteer, created a downloadable format for the "Robohand" that could be made on any 3-D printer. Owen was inspired after a woman contacted him about making a prosthetic for her son who was missing part of his hand.

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The "Robohand" can be created by nearly anyone with the right printer, a few dollars and a free afternoon. Made from a durable plastic that is then cut into specific pieces by the printer and put back together to form the hand, the "Robohand" looks almost like a plastic toy model, something along the lines of a Lego or Erector set.

In Marblehead, Mass., Paul McCarthy made a "Robohand" for his son Leon but said he ended up with a bit of a "Frankenstein" hand initially according to NPR.

But McCarthy said Leon, who was born with no fingers on his left hand, has adapted to the hand and started using it in school .

"I'm able to hold a pencil and piece of paper," Leon told NPR. "I've done a lot more than I ever thought I could, so it's opened up a lot of new doors in my life."

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