Mainers use 3-D technology to reach out to Dominicans

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PORTLAND — Dean Rock is always happy to lend a hand – or 15.

The Cumberland resident, who owns a 3-D printer, uses the device to print prosthetic arms for those in need. Rock is part of e-NABLE, a group of volunteers who print prosthetics and give them to people free of charge.

“If you need a hand, you can ask for one,” Rock said.

Earlier this year, Rock was approached by the Rotary Club of Portland, which asked him to be a partner in its 3-H (hearing, H2O and hands) project in the Dominican Republic. The initiative provides people with hearing aids, water filters and prosthetic hands.

Rotary member John Curran said the club has been donating hearing aids to the Dominican Republic for 15 years, and about five years ago started providing prosthetic hands, too. The prosthetics, however, used four prongs that closed like a claw and didn’t resemble real hands.

“It didn’t fit their culture,” Rock said. “They were still being stigmatized.”

According to Curran, most people in the Dominican Republican lost their hands or arms to machete attacks. The loss of a limb carries a strong stigma in the country, Curran said.

Objects can be made with a 3-D printer by creating a design on a computer and then using the machine to put down layers of material to create a solid object. While the arms created by Rock still don’t look like real arms, they are more functional and the size can be customized.

“With these e-NABLE hands, we can fit them to exactly the size of the person who needs it,” Curran said.

Rotary Club members went to the Dominican Republic this past spring to measure the 15 men who will be receiving the arms. The recipients also specified what they will be using their hands for; some people need sturdier limbs because of the manual labor they do.

“These are guys that work,” Rock said. “They want to be able to hold a paintbrush and do things with these arms.”

Because e-NABLE Rock usually makes arms for children, making larger limbs has been an interesting challenge, he said.

“This is a grand experiment for all of us,” Rock said. “For those getting the arms, for me making them, and for the Rotary fitting them.”

Each arm takes about 25 hours to print, said Rock, who is retired and houses his 3-D printer in his basement.

“I really enjoy the process of printing in 3-D and I have the time,” Rock said.

He also likes “serving a real need.”

“I like the idea of this technology helping people,” he said. “I love that there’s no cost to the recipient.”

Giving someone the gift of mobility and independence is huge, Rock said.

“I’ve seen people receive hands and it’s this magical moment because they realize what they can do and that’s so satisfying,” he said.

Curran said he hopes in the future, people who need prosthetics in the Dominican Republic can take their own measurements and send them to the Rotary Club, which will send the arms down for people to attach on their own.

The club hopes to also teach nurses how to put in hearing aids for people, and teach other people how to install water filters. The goal is to give people more long-term independence.

“When we’re looking at these H’s, we’re looking at how we can make them sustainable,” Curran said.

Curran said the Rotary Club is excited about being able to give Rock’s prosthetic arms to people in the Dominican Republic. International service work is a key component of the club’s volunteer work, and the Dominican Republic in particular means a lot to club members.

“The Dominican (Republic) is really something our club has been passionate about,” Curran said. “We see it as a sister-city relationship with them.”

Curran, along with Rock and other Rotarians, will be visiting the country for five days in October to deliver the prosthetics. Rock said he can’t wait to see the result of the hard work and long hours that went into making the limbs.

“What I’m really looking forward to with this trip is the look on one man’s face of the difference this will make in his life,” Rock said. “That will be my reward.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Dean Rock, who has a 3-D printer in the basement of his Cumberland home, has partnered with the Rotary Club of Portland to create 15 prosthetic arms for people in the Dominican Republic.

Rock is part of a group called e-NABLE that gives prosethics to people for free.

Making a prosthetic arm using a 3-D printer takes approximately 25 hours, Cumberland resident Dean Rock said.

Cumberland resident Dean Rock, left, shows a prosthetic arm he made with a 3-D printer to Portland Rotary member John Curran, who will give the limbs to people in the Dominican Republic.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.
  • Juliana L’Heureux

    Portland Rotarians have supported the “3H” international service program with the Dominican Republic by donating audiology leadership, clinical skills and technological experience to create a three pronged program to improve the hearing, water quality and mobility of Dominicans, as well as Haittian workers, who are living in the Dominican Republic.