Matt Thomas, a junior mechanical engineering student at Utah Valley University (UVU), is one of those exceptional people who are always of service to others. His latest service project involved printing prosthetic hands on a 3D printer for underprivileged children in the Philippines and South America.
Thomas’ adventure in 3D printing began in March 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Doctors and nurses around the world desperately needed 3D-printed respirators with reusable filters. Having a penchant for mechanics, Thomas bought equipment and taught himself how to use the printer.
He organized a group of 3D printing enthusiasts to create the respirators and filters. Some had no experience requiring Thomas to spend many hours creating digital tutorials. Additionally, he has produced several training videos on viruses, masks and hardware.
“Our group has printed about two million devices for doctors and nurses in Utah, New York, and even Israel,” Thomas said. “But I wanted to help in other ways. So, I started researching 3D printing, and I thought, what about kids who don’t have hands? »
During his research, he heard of a non-profit organization called Allow the future(ETF) whose core mission is to recruit volunteers around the world to 3D print hands, arms and fingers that have lost them due to war, disease or disaster for free natural.
In partnership with ETF, Thomas was able to print and assemble 14 hands for underprivileged children in the Philippines and South America. “A 3D prosthetic hand, printed and assembled, costs less than $10,” he said, “but the hand means the world to the person receiving it.”
EFT had given Thomas some print files, but he found them cumbersome with a long processing time. Still an engineer, he redesigned and remixed the files, which made printing and processing faster and easier, eventually sharing the design with EFT.
“Seeing kids pick up a piece of sidewalk chalk, pick up a water bottle, or balance themselves on a bike, when they couldn’t before, is worth the hard work,” Thomas said. “The icing on the cake is seeing what the mechanical hand does for them.”
Her UVU academic advisor was impressed with her efforts and suggested she turn her work with EFT into a credited internship. Part of his internship included conducting a study to determine if the parts and materials could be sanitized, used for food containers, and if the parts were viable in the medical field. Working with EFT, he cultivated ten types of bacteria, cultured them, and imaged the parts under an electron microscope. “Being able to add the microbiology part to my mechanical engineering study was beneficial for me and the department,” he said. “I took courses in anatomy, phlebotomy, microbiology, as well as courses in medicine. I love learning and connecting the dots.
All was well with Thomas’ school and service projects when tragedy struck — his mother died of complications from the COVID vaccine on Mother’s Day in 2021 — she was his rock and his foundation.
He explained that his mother had worked for years as a head nurse at the University of Utah Hospital, Intensive Care Unit, and had battled type 1 diabetes since her mid-teens. Several days her diabetes made her sick at work. “I saw her battle diabetes every day as she saved young lives at Primary Children’s Hospital. She was there and just saving lives,” he said. She was vaccinated against COVID-19 and, unfortunately, the vaccine triggered her immune response, resulting in a heart attack that claimed her life.
Thomas’ mother lived by a quote she often repeated to him: “You will never regret being kind.” “I thought it was just a perfect example of her,” he said. “I’ve always tried to live by the quote. I’m not perfect, but I’m getting there. She was always there for me and guided me.
His mother’s quote became Thomas’ motto of service.