A few weeks ago, a video was floating around social media of Robert Downey Jr presenting a one-armed boy with a prosthetic Iron Man style limb. The video shows six-year-old Alex crying “It’s just what I always wanted!” as he tries on his new arm. It’s a beautiful video and it deserves to be shared.
And so do that people behind it.
Robert Downey Jr is wonderful. And what kid wouldn’t want a surprise visit from Iron Man? But, despite all the good his face will do for the campaign, he’s not what makes it special.
The man who is really behind Alex’s prosthetic is Albert Manero, a graduate student of engineering and at the University of Central Florida.
In America, a prosthetic limb can cost tens of thousands of dollars and often aren’t covered by basic health insurance.
Albert Manero was contacted by Alex’s parents via a wonderful website called e-NABLE, founded by Ivan Owen and Richard Van As a few years ago. It connects volunteers with engineering skills and 3D printing equipment with people who are missing limbs and asking for help. Having only been founded in 2013, it is still in relative infancy and at the moment is still only capable of providing prosthetics with very basic functions. But, for someone who has never had a hand at all, it can be life-changing.
The designs at e-NABLE make an effort to make sure that each prosthetic is fun and exciting as a lot of them are aimed at children. They have ‘Talon Hands’ and ‘Raptor Hands’ and ‘Odysseus Hands’ and, for maybe the first time in their lives, kids with missing limbs can feel special in a more positive way. And, instead of costing as much as some houses, they can be bought for no more than two hundred US dollars.
By selling the prototype and patenting the rights to it, Manero’s team could have stood to become billionaires over night. This is the kind of technology that people in need would give every penny they ever earn for. And there are people in this world who would willingly exploit that need for their own personal profit.
Instead, Manero and his team made the blueprints and building instructions freely available online to anyone who wants to recreate their invention. For people who don’t have a 3D printer – they’re not yet so cheap that there’s one in every household – the site even has a ‘Match Making Team’ that can put you in touch with the nearest volunteer who has one.
Uninterested in the fame that this now viral video can bring to them, Manero and his team are already at work making another prosthetic arm for a child in need.
There are now nearly four thousand people like Albert Manero working at e-NABLE, almost all of them volunteering their time and energy around their regular lives. Every single one of these people deserves to be applauded. They, unlike so many idle, choose in the time that is their own to make a small contribution to a growing initiative that is making a huge difference to the lives of so many suffering people.
In a world where people are celebrated by their ability to make profits, Manero’s stance on this situation is nothing short of beautiful.
“We have a responsibility to do this.” he has been reported as saying. “With these degrees in engineering … if we can’t be helping others with them … then what are they worth?”
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