NEW YORK—A 4-year-old girl with a rare disease that robbed her from using her arms can now pick up toys and play for the first time with the help of a 3D printer.
When Emma Levelle was born, her legs were up by her ears, her shoulders were internally rotated, her fingers were deviated, and she had rocker-bottom feet. Doctors diagnosed her with a condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenital, her mom said tearfully in a video uploaded to YouTube.
Arthrogryposis is a genetic condition that causes muscles to be abnormally developed and joints to be stiff, according to the Boston Children’s Hospital.
Doctors re-casted Emma’s legs. Slowly, she began to develop, but she did not regain ability in her arms. But after observing a presentation on a robotic exoskeleton, or WREX, at a medical conference, Emma’s mom enrolled her daughter in treatment with the device’s maker, Dr. Tariq Rahman. Rahman is the director of the center for orthopedic research and development at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del.
WREX is a body-powered exoskeleton that attaches to either a person’s wheelchair or a body jacket that is currently sold by JAECO Orthopedics. Using the WREX attached to a stand, Emma was able to slip her arms through the elastic bands and in no time lifted her hands up to her mouth for the first time, grabbing toys, food and candy to her parents’ amazement.
The WREX however was built with metal parts and too big for a 25-pound little girl. Using a Dimension 3D printer, the researchers at the hospital created a custom-designed, light-weight robotic exoskeleton that enables young Emma to overcome the limitations of her disorder use her arms for the first time to play. The plastic the printer uses is the same kind used to create LEGOs, according to the researchers.
Emma now calls them her “magic arms.”