Originally published by NBC Washington in June 2016.
A Virginia high school student’s bold request to use the school’s 3-D printer soon became a life-changing milestone for his little brother in need of a prosthetic hand.
Gabriel Fillippini, a junior at Park View High School in Loudoun County, Virginia, was inspired to help his 6-year-old brother, Lucas, who was born with no left hand, as soon as he discovered the school had obtained a 3-D printer for its career and technical education classroom.
“Gabriel came to me and kind of asked if we could print out a prosthetic hand, and I was kind of taken aback by it,” said Kurt O’Connor, a teacher at Park View. “I said, ‘I don’t know, I guess we could try.'”
Fillippini, 16, and his teacher gathered help from the community in their pursuit to print a new hand for Lucas. An organization called Enabling the Future, which supports “3-D printable, open-source prosthetics,” gave them free designs for the hand. A group of local hobbyists helped them perfect the knuckle joints.
But even with this assistance, the first hand they printed was a little bit too big, so they had to scale down the design and try again.
On his 6th birthday, earlier this month, Lucas received an unforgettable present — a new hand that fit him perfectly.
“It’s nice to do things with my both hands,” Lucas said, adding that he is grateful that kids can no longer ask about his “little hand.”
“It makes me think my brother loves me a lot,” he said.
Fillippini said this success makes him want to continue making prosthetics for kids in need.
“I know there are other kids who would love to have another hand,” Fillippini said.
The boys’ mother, Romina Barrera, credits Fillippini’s teacher for inspiring and encouraging his selfless idea.
“This planet needs more people like Mr. O’Connor,” Barrera said. “He’s willing to help a stranger even though he didn’t know us.”
O’Connor said he, too, is interested in using the school’s printer to continue to change lives. He said he plans to incorporate new projects, such as the one he and Fillippini took on this year, into his engineering classes.
“This is what we do as educators,” O’Connor said. “I was just fortunate enough to have a tool and end up using it for something spectacular.”