Teacher Uses School’s 3D Printer to Make a Plastic Finger for Injured Student

If you broke your writing arm around exams week before 3D printing, you would hope that you had some good friends or a great teacher to help you out with writing. Now, in 3D printing reality, a teacher made a student a plastic finger so he could type during exams after almost dying in a freak bicycle accident.

15-year-old Oliver Smith of Derbyshire was attempting to fix the brakes on his friend’s bike, and rode down a ramp behind his house to test them. When he realized he would crash into the house, he put his arms down and braced for impact, and his right arm went through a glass window. He was dangling on the ground while his arm was stuck in broken glass, and when he was pulled free he severed two nerves and a main artery. Luckily his parents were nearby and rushed quickly to his aid.

They drove to the nearby hospital, and after a lengthy reconstructive surgery and days of uncertainty, doctors were able to save his arm.

Smith has had a skin graft to help his arm heal, but it doesn’t help with his homework. He was gearing up to take his GCSE exams (General Certificate of Secondary Education), which secondary education students in England and Wales take over a period of two years. James Wheldon, Smith’s design technology teacher knew that the GCSEs would be a big problem for Smith without being able to use his right hand, and first thought about trying to attach a pen to the end of the splint so Smith could type. But then he thought of a more innovative plan, which involved 3D printing.

The 3D printed plastic finger that Wheldon made attaches to the end of Smith’s splint, which he has to wear for the next 18 months. He’ll be able to complete his GCSEs with little trouble now, as the 3D printed finger implement means he can type using both hands.

Wheldon was glad he was able to help Smith out with a solution for his exams.

“It only took about 15 minutes to design and print it out. We’ve made a few prototypes and we are still finalising the design,” Wheldon said. “I think it’s been a big help. We’ve still got to work out how he will do the practical part of his GCSE but hopefully having the finger, which we call Claw 5, will have a big impact. He’s such a resilient young man.”

Doctors told Smith that he may only regain about 40-70% of his feeling back in his right arm, but that isn’t slowing him down. He makes regular checkups at the hospital, and is going on a trip to Nepal in July with his school.

Smith says he’s “extremely grateful” to his teacher for his help, and for his new 3D printed finger.