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5-year-old born without fingers gets 3-D printed hand from Mechanicsburg firm

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MECHANICSBURG, Pa. - There's one thing Emmy Hoffman of Philadelphia wants to do more than anything, now that she has a prosthetic hand.

"To ride my new bike!" the five-year-old exclaimed Wednesday.

She was having trouble gripping the handlebars due to a condition called symbrachydactly.

When Emmy's mom, Jocelyn Hoffman, was pregnant with her, a complication prevented the fingers on Emmy's right hand from growing. But Emmy proved to be self-reliant.

"She was very used to doing things one-handed," Jocelyn said.

But the hot pink bicycle was the driving force behind a project completed by Ability Prosthetics and Orthotics in Mechanicsburg: to deliver a prosthetic hand made by a 3-D printer.

"It's almost like an Erector set; you get the pieces and you can put them together yourself," Eric Shoemaker, who made the prosthesis, said. "When she flexes her wrist the fingers on the prosthesis will flex, so as she flexes her wrist, it can grasp things."

Shoemaker and a team at Mission College collaborated over the last year on the project.

After testing several prototypes, it took about one day for the printer to make the prosthetic hand, at a cost to the Hoffmans of between $40 and $60, which is significantly less than a traditionally-made prosthesis, Shoemaker said.

"With 3-D printing, it allows us to make that much less expensive," he said. "If she breaks it, we 3-D print a new part and fix it, replace it. If she grows out of it, we 3-D print her a new one."

That's good news, since this hand is only expected to last between six months and a year before it becomes too small for Emmy's growing body, and she would get a new one.

"It will look as normal as it can be because it will just grow with her," Thomas Hoffman, Emmy's dad, said.

Jocelyn Hoffman, who wrote a children's book about her daughter's condition, says she is truly happy for her daughter.

"Not many moms can give their daughter a hot pink hand," she said. "As parents, you want to give your children everything that you can to make them successful."