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3D printed prosthetic helps show young woman's zest for life

Posted at 12:37 PM, Jan 08, 2024

Without knowing anything about Irina Bird, if you list all the sporting activities she has tried – surfing, snowboarding, swimming, horseback riding, tennis, biking, kayaking – you might think, this is a person up for trying anything.

But, when you find out this 27-year-old is doing all these activities standing at three feet nine inches tall and with one arm, you get a better idea of how fearless she really is.

Bird was born in Russia with a rare condition called Phocomelia syndrome.

"I also have a leg condition called PFFD. So, for me, it means I'm missing almost all my bones in my legs except for my tibia bone. So, I don't have a femur, patella, or fibula."

"I have a few missing toes, and I have web fingers, web toes. And I have a fused right elbow. So I kind of stand out in the crowd when people see me, no doubt about that."

She was put in an orphanage and at age four, she was adopted into a family and soon had ten siblings. With a large family, she learned how to hold her own.

"Even with the chores, I couldn't even push the vacuum because it weighed more than me, but my parents got me a smaller vacuum and then you learn to adapt from there. I'm always willing to try things."

A recent surgery led her to seek help from the Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

"I had a bone overgrowth in my nub, and we had to get surgery on that and it started having nerve pain because of that surgery."

The prosthetics team at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital created her new prosthetic arm. After taking measurements and designing several drafts, with Bird's input, they 3D printed a custom cover. It's a shell made of a carbon fiber plastic polymer mix and covers the metal part of the prosthetic.

"It would be nice to have it looking a little nicer."

It's a game-changer for her.

"I think sometimes people see a prosthetic and they're like, 'Oh, that can be weird or scary,' And especially for kids."

Prosthetics of course need to be functional, but how they look, Bird says is important too.

Steven Dewitt is a certified prosthetist at Mary Free Bed Orthotics & Prosthetics + Bionics and has worked with Bird throughout the process.

"We can we have a bunch of different dyes and resins where we can match skin tones. Irina really wanted to do a black carbon fiber look."

"We are going to do some custom etches, basically, like kind of like tattoos in this, because she gave us some drawings that she wanted to have on the front and back of it."

Personalization of prosthetics is just one perk of 3D printing. It can also improve patient care, cutting down on the cost and time it takes to make life-changing limbs, sockets, joints, and more.

According to the Business Research Company, the market size for 3D printed prosthetics is expected to grow globally to 1.44 billion by 2027.

In Bird's case, it's a way to express herself.

"It's making it your own and putting your own spunk to it."

"I think it's being able to bring out my personality and share who I am in some aspects. And this is a little glimpse of me."

"When you can show off like, 'Oh, look at this cool design that I have on it.' Like that's kind of cool because that's a good way to teach kids then about like prosthetics and how they don't have to be like scary or anything."

Similar to all the sports Bird has tried, when presented with 3D printing, she didn't hesitate to say "yes."

"My perspective in life is like, I'm always willing to try almost anything because you don't realize if you like something until you try it."