By Erin Albanese
With her kind voice and seemingly ever-present smile, it’s easy to see how Kentwood Public School’s Challenger Elementary social worker Pam Buschle has impacted the lives of children over the past 26 years, offering support and a helping hand to many.
Now, with the help of East Kentwood High School engineering students, she’s made it possible to literally give a hand –- a 3-D-printed prosthetic one — to a child in need.
Students recently printed and assembled a hand prototype and will soon create a final version for a child, thanks to an online community of designers and a challenge from Buschle. They will be able to choose the child who will receive the hand, and they are especially interested in supporting someone from a war-torn country.
This gift was made possible by the No Limbits (pronounced “no limits”) Foundation, created by Buschle and her husband, Marty, a year ago. Its mission is to provide children with prosthetic limbs and to help people who have faced physical challenges have the highest quality of life possible in other ways. Challenger Student Council members raised about $500 for the foundation.
Buschle had both legs and both arms amputated while batting septic shock following routine surgery in early 2014. She now wears prosthetics to replace all four limbs, and is still able to work, walk, use her iPad, open doors and much more.
“I feel incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to give back,” Buschle said. “When I lost my limbs, the Kentwood community, students and teachers all gave back to me. This project is allowing me to give back to someone who might not have hope. I was the recipient of so much love and assistance, and now we are going to be able to offer that to someone.”
Because of cost, prosthetics are out of reach for many people. Buschle’s electric prosthetics cost $125,000 each, mostly paid for through insurance and Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. Fittings alone cost thousands of dollars. While the 3-D-printed hand is much more basic than Buschle’s, a professionally made, muscle-actuated hand can cost around $6,000 to $10,000, so cost is a huge barrier around the world.
Making Prosthetics Accessible
E-NABLE, a community of individuals from all over the world, offers free, downloadable designs for people to use their 3-D printers to create prosthetic hands and arms. Design kits are open source and available through the site.
At Buschle’s request, East Kentwood engineering teacher Randy Smith challenged seniors Gabe LaComte and Jason Gray-Moore, and juniors Joshua Cancler and Cole Culp, to 3-D-print the hand using files from e-NABLE. They spent about 20 hours using two printers in Smith’s classroom to finish a prototype by following a step-by-step process. They will next upload a video of the hand to e-NABLE, which will verify it and send specific measurements from a child for the final hand.
Money raised by Challenger students was used to purchase materials, including filament for the 3-D hand.
“I enjoyed doing 3-D printing of the hand,” Jason said. “You can help somebody who is not as fortunate as us and we can give them a hand because we have the resources to do it.”
Added Cole, “It’s a good opportunity to make a change for someone who doesn’t have something as basic as a hand. Some people go their whole lives without being able to pick up something. It’s nice to know you helped them with something like that.”
No Limbits has also brought a child to Grand Rapids for a prosthetic hand, Zoey Krause from the Dominican Republic, whose father, Tim Krause, is an East Kentwood High School graduate. They sponsored a 5K run called Medaling Monkeys for special education students; provided scholarships for teenagers who need adaptive equipment to participate in a sport; sent care packages to people around the country who have lost their limbs; and they plan to build more 3-D hands.
Buschle said her career has given her perspective on life. For many years she worked with students on the autism spectrum.
“Seeing the resilience and hard work students would put into living their happiest, fullest life gave me a lot of inspiration when I went through this experience,” she said. “I was able to look at the students and families I had known for years, and think about how they put one foot in front of the other when things seemed very impossible and difficult, and draw a lot of strength from that.”
Buschle returned to work seven months after losing her arms and legs.
“It was really beautiful, being back in school, how much the students encouraged me and accepted me, and have shown me how to be compassionate and accepting and loving. Children are naturals at that. There are a lot of lessons we can learn from our students.”
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