STOUGHTON — Ian Bormett is a teenager with a lot going on. He’s on the Stoughton High School swim team, the track team, the school newspaper and the student senate. He’s a triathlete with lots of friends and a 3.96 GPA.
But when he learned of a neighborhood boy who’d been on the waiting list for a prosthetic left hand for almost two years, he set about making him one with a 3-D printer in his school’s fabrication lab.
“For a 16-year-old to say, ‘I’ll take the time to come and make that for a kid I don’t know just because I want to be nice,’ that’s incredible,” said Bessy Friedrich, mother of 11-year-old Jonah, who was born without a left hand.
“It speaks volumes for Ian as a youth, but also what technology can do and educating our youth how to use it,” she said.
Ian learned about Jonah’s situation after Friedrich made a video of her son typing his homework and posted it on Facebook.
“I was proud of myself, of my adaptation. I taped an Allen wrench to his nub so he could hit one key instead of several,” Friedrich said.
Friedrich knows Ian’s mother from the gym and is friends with her on Facebook. When Ian saw the video on his mother’s Facebook feed, he knew with the experience he’d had with the 3-D printer at school, he could possibly make him a hand.
Jonah had been on the waiting list of a nonprofit called e-NABLE, an international community of about 8,000 volunteers who make free prosthetic hands on 3-D printers for people who need them.
The group also offers blueprints of its designs online for those who would like to try to make the devices on their own. And that’s where Ian got the plans.
Last year, Ian took two semesters of a course called Fab Lab, where he learned engineering techniques and how to use the school’s 3-D printers and laser cutters.
He isn’t currently enrolled in any of the classes, but was able to use one of the machines during his study hall time.
It took him about two months to make, working on and off. The assembly was intricate since the prosthesis is made up of so many separate joints.
The hardest part, Ian said, was during the heat forming, when he needed to get sections to curve around Jonah’s arm. Everything is printed flat on the printer and he had to submerge certain parts in boiling water to mold them.
Now Jonah said he is able to use his new prosthetic hand to type, pick things up, shake hands, give high-fives, cut and eat food, hold his toothbrush to put on toothpaste, do household chores, and hold a phone.
And at the Thanksgiving table Thursday, Jonah, the oldest of six children, was able to say he was grateful for his new hand, among other things. He also spent a good deal of time showing the hand to his cousins, his aunt and uncle, and his grandparents.
“It works really well for him,” Ian said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised how quickly he’s been able to pick up using it. So far nothing seems to be breaking or wearing out too fast.”
The prosthesis is an arm and a hand because Jonah doesn’t have a wrist. It goes on easily and quickly, over Jonah’s elbow, and when he bends his elbow the hand opens and closes.
The truth is, Jonah has always been able to do everything any able-bodied person can do, just in a different way. “He just knows no different,” his mom said. He found the prosthesis online about two years ago, thought it looked cool, and has wanted it since, his mother said.
Stephen Lyons, a family friend who coaches Jonah in basketball and football, calls him a remarkable athlete, who is often the basketball team’s leading scorer.
“It’s so amazing what he can do with one hand,” he said.
Lyons also marvels at Ian. “He’s brilliant. He’s one of those kids who would get a toy, take it apart, figure it out, and then play with it.”
So when Ian saw the duct tape and Allen wrench Jonah’s mom had proudly rigged up, he looked at it and thought, “I could build him a better solution than that,” Lyons said.
“In this era of so much anger, whether it’s elections, or whether it’s race, or you name it,” Lyons said, there’s “this gift for no reason other than to be kind.”