Charity helps VA children to get 3-D hands

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A Virginia boy born without a full hand is now thriving. A national charity and a 3-D printer has given him the use of two hands.

We first introduced you to Nataniel in November before he went to New York to get fitted for a hand made on a 3-D printer.

Put simply, what the charity E-nable did for Nataniel, 7, is life-changing. He and his family have gone through a range of emotions since we first brought you their story three months ago. They couldn't wait to show our viewers what technology and generosity can do.

Playing a game of catch with your father is one of the most traditional activities for any child growing up. Nataniel said it is the first thing he wanted to do when he got his 3-D hand.

"It was good," Nataniel said. "I couldn't catch it for first but second time I catched it! Mama always tells me practice makes perfect."

For Nataniel's father, that first game of catch where his son had use of two hands is a moment burned into his memory. His son was born with a deformed hand. They weren't always sure a day like this would come.

"He was just, it was like a kid on Christmas morning, you know, getting to do something for the very first time," Theodore said.

For Nataniel, now every day there's something he gets to do for the very first time. Every day now, there's a discovery.

The lessons started in December, when the family traveled to New York City to get fitted for what he calls his "special hand" and meet the high school class that made it.

"I was all scared at first that I couldn't do it," Nataniel said. "Actually when I first saw it I said, 'Well that's pretty small, about as small as my hand.'"

Parents Rebecca and Theodore couldn't take their eyes off the son who had taken such struggles in stride for so long.

"It just took my breath away," Rebecca said "He was in awe and he was wow! You could just tell all over his face that he could not believe. It was so much better than what he had even dreamed. For the first time ever he had a hand!"

The lessons learned on that quick trip to New York aren't purely physical.

"The girls were great," Rebecca said. "He got to go around the room and not a single one of them acted like not wanting to touch him and things that he's had to deal with all of his life. He's had to deal with explaining 'yeah, I'm a little different but I'm OK.'"

For Nataniel, the effects of his 3-D printed hand even reach into his dreams.

"I've had a bad dream that a person got me and he was pushing me up to the ceiling and I couldn't get down and now I have my claw so I could get me down," Nataniel said.

Nataniel's family says the biggest blessing the organization E-nable can give is to continue making these hands. There are teams right here in our area working for the charity, even making hands for other local children.

A group in Chesterfield that includes local middle and high school students started making the hands about a year and a half ago. Since then, their work has impacted one of their own.

The group works at the Chesterfield Makerspace at the public library. They use a 3-D printer that has already changed the life of Collegiate student Austin Tyner. Austin, 15, was born without a fully formed hand and needed help doing the things she says "normal people" do.

"Some kids were scared of it because it's different," Austin said. "Other challenges were, I couldn't button things really well."

She was introduced to this technology and the folks at Makerspace when she went to her sister's science fair, where she saw a group of kids who had made a 3-D printed hands.

"It was like a baby discovering its toes," Austin said. "You know, because babies are fascinated. They're like 'whoa! Toes!' and I was like 'whoa! A hand!'"

That was also the day she met Dr. Bruce "Doc" Davies. He looked on as she tried out the hand. The moment stuck with him, as well.

"That was incredibly viscerally stunning," Davies said. "It's life changing to see somebody who needs one of these things use one."

Austin, through E-nable, was then able to get a hand of her own. It's changed her every day activities.

"I use it to grab stuff and carry stuff," Austin said. "Since I'm in high school I always have lots of stuff."

Now, she's also become part of the team that makes the hands for others. Davies explains that team helps feed filament up through a tube, which works like a hot glue gun. It's a complicated process that takes almost eleven hours to print.

"It builds layers of material just like this, so in essence what you're doing is you're building a layer of very fine filament and laying another layer on top of that and another layer on top of that," Davies said.

The lessons Austin learns in the Makerspace aren't just about science.

"It's just good to know that these kids are interested in something that would help other people," she said.

That help transcends age and school district, as she changes the lives of the Tomahawk Creek Middle School students working on the projects.

"All I need to do is look at them when Austin and other kids come in and they actually begin to use the hands and I'm sure they mimic exactly what I went through the first time I walked over to see her," Davies added. "You can see them change. You can see them look at the child, know that they need something and actually helping them."

These devices are completely free to the people who need them. So far, E-nable has produced more than 600 hands.

Copyright 2015 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved