HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — After a month of designing, 3D-printing and making modifications, a team of high school engineering students in Hendersonville, Tennessee, built a fellow student at their school a prosthetic hand.
Engineering teacher Jeff Wilkins noticed sophomore Sergio Peraota using his left hand with his computer mouse at the beginning of the fall 2022 semester. This led him to ask Peraota the question he has been asked his whole life.
"What's wrong with like, what happened to my hand? Lots of people. And I used to just say even in kindergarten nice to say ‘I was born like that,’" recounted Peraota.
It was something that Peraota admits he was bullied for in earlier years but learned to live with.
"I would just write with my left hand and like type with my left hand, basically, really wasn't that difficult. I got used to it so that I could do pretty much a lot of stuff almost everything," he explained.
The "almost" everything is why Wilkins continued to ask Peraota about his day-to-day life.
"He started asking me a couple of questions about like my hand and stuff," recounted Peraota. "Basically from there, he started saying that he was thinking about making me a prosthetic hand. And I was just kind of stunned there, it was crazy... I just live my life normally like this. So I've never really thought about getting one because I've gotten very used to it."
With Peraota's approval, Wilkens assigned the project to a team of upperclassmen in his Engineering Design and Development class.
"I didn't know Sergio when we were gonna do this, I had no idea who he was. My teacher actually introduced me to him and brought the idea that it would be a good idea to make him a hand because he sees in class, so it will be really useful for him. And once we started with idea, it went off from there," explained Hendersonville High School senior Leslie Jaramiooo.
The team of three juniors and Jaramiooo started by designing a prosthetic hand that would work for Peraota.
"We were kind of starting from scratch. But we were able to look at some previous designs from online," explained Jaramiooo.
Once they had a design and made modifications, the team 3D printed it.
"In the beginning, I was kind of nervous if I didn't know if he was actually going to like it, or if it was like something he was even going to use," said Jaramioo. "I didn't know if the hand was going to be too big, but then as I started knowing Sergio more and him telling me what he thinks should be better. And then it really got me that confidence to continue."
"I came in and visited. And I saw that they were getting the first prototype done. I saw a piece of it. And so I was like, ‘Oh, wow, they're starting to make it,’" recounted Peraota. "I never expected this. I just thought I would just live my life and just do school here. But no, they actually offered to make me a prosthetic hand."
Once the modifications were complete, the team had Peraota try to play catch.
"In the beginning, he was like, try and catch the ball. He wasn't quite getting it," explained Jaramiooo. "But then... when he saw him catch the ball, we're all like, ‘oh my gosh, he did it’ and we continue to toss him a bone to just have that moment again!"
For Peraota, that was a day he could not forget.
"I was actually really excited because I never really caught a ball in like 15 years of my life. I never caught a ball with my right hand. So I got to do that for the first time," recounted Peraota. "It changed my life...living without a hand for 15 years and they actually offered me two is actually pretty cool. No one has ever offered me this stuff."
Peraota said he wears the prosthetic every day and tries to do new things.
"I actually tested, I grabbed a water bottle. I actually grabbed a little cup with blueberries and I actually started eating them, which is cool," he said.
It is a life change that has inspired all four students to pursue a career in engineering.
"I've been wanting to be a mechanical engineer. And just experiencing this and seeing that I can help other people with even a small project that I do. But in this case, it was like, actually helping him and actually using it. It really made me want to, like continue doing it," said Jaramiooo.
Peraota said he hopes he can learn what the other students have so he can make modifications to his own prosthetic in the future because the devices has been so life-changing. "I actually feel like I have a right hand," he said.
To learn more about the students' project, watch the video they created.