South Bay Eighth Graders 3D Print Prosthetic Hand for Schoolmate

The 3D modeling class at Almaden Country Day School is not a required course. Students can choose to take it.

This year, eighth grader Sarah Vender not only chose to take the course, but she also chose to take it somewhere very special.

“At first, I was a little unsure because I had never made a hand before,” Vender said.

By the end of the school year, Vender and her classmates had designed, printed and assembled a prosthetic hand for a third grader at their school, Trent DeSantis, who had been born without a fully-formed right hand.

“I really wanted to make sure this was perfect because this was going to change his life if it went well,” Vender said.

The whole journey started earlier in the school year when DeSantis’ mother approached Joanne Papini, the modeling class teacher. She asked if they wanted to take a crack at 3D printing a prosthetic hand for her son.

“At first, I was like, ‘That will be nice for college and high school kids,'” Papini said. “But I wanted to do something with it.”

When Papini brought the idea up to her students, they were all in, but it was Vender who seemed to take the most interest and became something of the project leader.

From start to finished hand, it took the students about a month to complete the job. Vender said there was lots of trial and even more error, pointing to the classroom’s “Fail Box” with all the pieces and parts that didn’t work

Eventually, though, a working prototype was created and with it, DeSantis reached his right hand across the table to pick up a bottle of hand sanitizer, a feat that had never been possible before. The room erupted in applause, cheering, and even tears.

“I was so relieved it worked,” said Vender.

“I felt happy and was super excited to show my class,” said DeSantis. 

The colors of the hand – teal and black – he had chosen himself to mirror his favorite hockey team, the San Jose Sharks.

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