When Cruz Ramos was a small child, he was in a terrible accident. At age five, he was riding an escalator at an Arlington, Texas mall when his index finger got caught and was so badly injured that it had to be amputated.

“It was horrible,” said his mother, Cecilia Serrano. “It was just a freak accident. You never think something like that would happen.”

The accident was especially devastating because Ramos dreams of one day playing league baseball, and the finger he lost is on his throwing hand. His family was told that a traditional prosthetic finger wouldn’t work for his needs, as it’s too rigid and breakable and too expensive to replace if it kept breaking, at $1,000. Ramos continued to play baseball, adapting to throwing without his index finger, but as the outfielder got older and baseball became more competitive, the loss of his finger became more problematic.

“Since that finger wasn’t there, it always would slip out the side or go somewhere else that I really didn’t want it to go,” Ramos said. “I was always afraid I’d mess up and get benched or not get as much playing time.”

Serrano happens to work for Dr. Todd Dombroski at UNT Health Science Center in the biomechanical medicine rehab lab, a prestigious facility known for traumatic brain injury assessments, braces, and particularly for 3D printed prosthetics. Dr. Dombroski, a retired US Army colonel, became experienced working with 3D printed prosthetics to treat military personnel wounded by roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. One day, Serrano brought Ramos to work with her and Dr. Dombroski offered to 3D print him a prosthetic finger.

Ramos was disbelieving at first, thinking that 3D printers were the stuff of science fiction, but he soon learned how real they are when Dr. Dombrowski, University of North Texas engineering student Andrew Robertson, and three professional prosthetists designed and 3D printed a prosthetic finger that fit neatly onto the stump of his missing index finger. The hinged prosthetic flexes just like a real finger would, allowing Ramos to grip a baseball as well as anyone else.

“I played without a finger for so long and now that I have it, it just feels a lot better,” said Ramos. “I feel like I have control of the ball.”

His new prosthetic finger is durable, but if it does break, it can be replaced for only $12.

“3D printing is advancing so quickly. I believe it’s going to be a big thing in prosthetics,” Robertson said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to be a part of a cutting-edge clinic like this.”

Ramos has been playing catch with family friend, professional sports agent and former Texas Ranger Jeff Frye, who recently arranged for him to go on the field before a Rangers game and meet players and coaches. Rangers manager Jeff Bannister shook Ramos’ hand and told him that he had a lot of courage.

It may not be long before we see the first major league baseball player playing with a 3D printed prosthetic. Maybe it will be Cruz Ramos, or maybe it will be Hailey Dawson, who is using a 3D printed prosthetic hand to pursue her goal of throwing out the first pitch at every major league baseball stadium. (She’d also be the first woman in the major leagues, but why not? She’s getting plenty of practice already.)

The UNT Health Science Center says that it will soon make the design for the 3D printed prosthetic available online so that anyone can make one.

“Whether it is a child or an adult, our patients want to function better in their lives,” Dr. Dombroski said. “Our team works together to make that happen.”

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Sources: KHOU, UNT Health Science Center / Images: UNT Health Science Center]

 

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