Editor’s note: Preston Linn is Industry Academic Coordinator for the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering at UNC-CH, Duke and N.C. State and has served as president of the Helping Hand Project.

CHAPEL HILL – Around the same time that the UNC Tar Heels were getting ready to play the Pitt Panthers at the Smith Center recently in Chapel Hill, 56 mostly undergraduate students representing four higher education organizations were meeting together in an academic classroom on Carolina’s Campus to talk about their efforts to help kids who have been born with deformations of their hands and arms.

The Helping Hand team

They are part of the Helping Hand Project, a non-profit based in Chapel Hill.

The Helping Hand Project is an organization that designs and manufactures 3-D printed prosthetic hands.  This organization gives these hands for free to children with limb differences around the US.  Additionally, they provide support events where these children and their families are able to join members for an afternoon celebration.  This allows the kids to meet other children like them and meet the students building their hands.

Helping Hand samples

“We are a nonprofit organization based in Chapel Hill, NC that specializes in providing 3D printed prosthetic hands free of charge for children in need.” the group says.

“Our efforts are made possible by donations and the countless hours our volunteers generously contribute to assemble these devices.”

The Chapel Hill conference brought together the four chapters of HHP sharing the current work being done at each chapter.  This included the UNCC branch sharing information about the latest prosthetic arm designs, the Durham Tech branch updated comfort protocols, and the NCSU and UNC branches sharing their custom case designs for arms and hands.

There were 11 Presentations from all of the chapters:

  • 5 from UNC (where HHP was founded 2 1/2 years ago by Joint Biomedical Department (BME-UNC/NCSU) Undergraduate Jeff Powell)
  • 4 from NCSU
  • 1 each from Durham Tech and UNCC (where Powell currently is pursuing a Master’s Degree, prior to Medical School at Wake Forest).

Jeff Powell at HHP

Powell (coached then by Professor Richard Goldberg, Joint Department BME) in Fall of 2015 went on design and make a hand that thrilled a little boy and family  but also inspired his friends and University colleagues to form the HHP that now includes the four institutions with their own chapters and expertise. This lends itself to collaboration and connections as well as state-wide and national attention.

“Our story began with 7-year-old Holden Mora from Chapel Hill, who was born with symbrachydactyly, a condition in which the hand stops growing early in amniotic development,” Helping Hand explains at its website.

Holden Mora with the Helping Hand

“Holden was the first child to receive a hand.  Our success with Holden inspired us to look for more ways to help kids like Holden.”

Drawing a crowd

Making this recent conference work so the students could step up their efforts and coordination was no easy effort.

It was originally scheduled during the weekend big snow that blanketed our region several weeks ago.   It was further complicated by a venue change that happened on the Friday before the Saturday evening.

However, Grace Cronin, a UNC junior (from Charlotte) and president of the UNC HHP Chapter, with help from Cole Warren (executive director of HHP) and other volunteers pulled in off with a minimum of distractions, attracting even more people than expected.

They are looking forward to other spring family gatherings and fund-raising events as well as their second intercollegiate conference next year.

How can you help? Visit the Helping Hand Project website.