At the Baltimore Orioles game on Monday, the work of UNLV and its engineering students will be center stage as 5-year-old Hailey Dawson will throw out the first pitch using the Flexy-Hand 2, which is a 3D-printed prosthetic device created by the UNLV engineering department.
"[Hailey's] excited because this is her wish. I think the best part for her is she gets to meet Manny Machado," said Hailey's mom, Yong Dawson.
Hailey was born with Poland Syndrome, a rare congenital disease that causes underdevelopment in the pectoral muscle and oftentimes also affects fingers on one side of the body. In Hailey’s case, her right pectoral muscle is completely flat and her right hand is deformed in a way that makes it near impossible for her to grip things, such as a baseball. Fortunately she isn't in much pain at all, according to her mom.
Yong contacted the Orioles to see if a meet-up would be possible, and the team complied in full to the delight of the entire family. Hailey’s dad grew up in Maryland and raised them all to be Baltimore fans, including Hailey’s older brother who plays Little League.
A 5-year-old's pure joy in having dreams fulfilled is better shown than described. As they waited in a Nashville airport, Yong took the following video to which Machado himself replied:
This isn’t Hailey’s first rodeo, though. She threw out the first pitch at a UNLV baseball game in March.
"She's a little celebrity herself, or she thinks she is," Yong said, breaking out into laughter.
Now, whenever Hailey sees news cameras, she asks if they’re around to talk to her.
Just remember, she’s a kid. I asked Yong if her daughter had anything to say about throwing out the first pitch in a Major League stadium.
Her mother laughed again and replied, "Right now she’s just playing around. She’s just your typical 5 year old."
A year and a half ago, her mom decided to approach a professor at the local university, UNLV’s chair of medical engineering, Brendan O’Toole, to ask if they could use 3D technology to create a prosthetic hand for her daughter.
They had tried talking to other organizations and 3D printers. Ultimately, Yong thought that reaching out to students would be a "win-win situation" for everyone involved. She was right.
O’Toole happily took on the challenge. He said it was the first time anyone had approached the school about taking on a project like this one. Yong brought them a pre-made concept called the Robohand. These designs are available for free as, according to O'Toole, everyone shares them in the interest of advancing the cause.
O’Toole gathered together students ranging from undergrad to high school to even interns to begin working on the project. The result is Hailey’s current device — the fourth version from UNLV. Essentially, Hailey’s palm fits in with the prosthetic with fishing line-type string connecting the fingers to her wrist. Thus, she can use her wrist to control the grasping motion of her hand.
"The design is really clever," O'Toole said. "We're still understanding it."
It’s an incredible feat that took nearly two years to build, despite how simple it appears. The technology is fresh, and, as O’Toole said, "The possibilities are endless."
UNLV and the engineering team will continue to work on honing the design, especially on trying to add the capability of moving individual fingers.
As Hailey’s story has gone public, other families have approached the university and the Dawsons. O’Toole said that while they’re still perfecting Hailey’s hand, they’re happy to take other projects on. Additionally, they’re connecting with other college engineering departments to spread the technology and raise awareness.
"My goal is to make sure people want to know that it [3D prosthetic technology] is there, if they need it, it doesn't cost that much ... it's so easy that students can make it -- anyone with a 3D printer can make it," Yong said.
Before throwing the first pitch, Hailey met Machado. She even got her prosthetic hand autographed.
Hailey meets her favorite player, Manny Machado. pic.twitter.com/p6KxwvgZw6— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) August 17, 2015
To top it all off, Hailey threw an excellent first pitch to Machado. For a great pitch, she got to fist bump Machado with her Flexy-Hand 2.
Great job, Hailey. Great job Orioles