A Louisiana veteran was the first person in the United States to receive a working 3D printed thumb, developed as part of a Department of Defense clinical trial. The technology behind the prosthetic was developed over 33 years by Sweden’s Integrum, which created a dental implant process whereby a metal rod is anchored into a jawbone and then affixed with a porcelain tooth.
The process was adapted for prosthetic limbs, and when veteran Jackson Caplis lost his thumb in a farm accident, he was airlifted to the University Medical Center in New Orleans, where he was offered the chance to take part in the clinical trial.
“We were just fixing a piece of equipment, and a pin sheared off and the piece of equipment, weighing 56,000 pounds, fell on top of my thumb. We didn’t have a piece of equipment big enough to get it off. So, I stayed underneath it for 34 minutes,” said Caplis.
“That’s the time when I realized, well there goes my life because that’s all I knew was mechanics. Now I don’t have a thumb, and you’ve got to have it to be a mechanic.”
Caplis’ new thumb was printed with the logo of his favorite sports teams, Alabama Crimson Tide. He also had another thumb printed, sans logo, for more formal occasions.
The printed thumb is made of hard plastic rather than metal, as he works around high voltage and would prefer a non-conductive appendage. Note, that this is not simply a plastic appendage that can be slipped onto the stump, rather it is part of a surgically installed medical prosthetic which required a metal rod to be implanted into the bone.
Caplis has since relocated to Colorado, where he works as an auto mechanic, and says his new thumb enables him to grip his motorcycle’s handlebars once again.
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