By Dave Ongie, News Editor
There are few things in life that can bring a smile to the face of 8-year-old Lacie Broyles as quickly as dance, gymnastics and tumbling.
The Jonesborough resident goes to class one night a week, but her mother Joleene said Lacie spends many of her spare moments throughout the week practicing. During a recent open dance day at Lacie’s dance school, however, Joleene watched as her daughter struggled to keep pace with the rest of the class during the tumbling portion.
“Lacie was born missing her radial bone in her left hand, which makes her left arm shorter, and she is also missing her thumb on the left side,” Joleene explained. “She has figured out how to do most everything except the tumbling. She’s figured out how to do buttons, how to tie shoes, but with the length difference, we just couldn’t figure out a way to make the tumbling work.
“So I had been thinking of ways that I could help her, and I came up with this design in my head.”
While Joleene had an idea for a prosthetic that could potentially allow her daughter to master the skill of tumbling, there were obstacles that had to be overcome in order for that idea to become a reality.
“Most of the time insurance companies will not pay for a prosthetic device that they do not normally see as a necessary device they need,” Joleene said. “A device like this would cost us probably between $3,000 and $5,000 out of pocket.”
So Joleene turned to social media, where she began searching for an organization or business that might have a 3-D printer capable of producing the prosthetic she had in mind for Lacie. She got several responses, but the one from Guy McAmis, a teacher at David Crockett High School, stood out.
“Since I’m also a teacher, I felt like I could reach out to him and just say, ‘Do you think this is something you can do?’ ” Joleene recalled. “He immediately responded and said, ‘I don’t know that we can do it, but we are definitely up for the challenge, and we’re going to give it all we can.’”
The task of turning Joleene’s concept into a reality fell to a pair of David Crockett students – Landon Hamaker and Jacob Nance. The juniors were taking a CAD class taught by McAmis, who came to them with the opportunity to complete the special project.
“It was out of our league pretty much,” Hamaker said. “But (Lacie) came in, we looked at it and we took some measurements with a little tape measure and started thinking of ideas, drawing it on pieces of paper and putting it into the system.”
There was certainly trial and error involved in the project. After Nance spent a couple hours converting the drawing into a 3-D computer model, they produced the first prototype of Lacie’s prosthetic with the help of a 3-D printer.
“We had her come and try it out, and then we made modifications after that when she said something was hurting her or we needed it to be bigger or smaller,” Nance said. “We fixed that on the model, and then we made another one.”
Both Hamaker and Nance said they were driven to strive to perfection on this project because of the smiling 8-year-old who was depending on them to get it right.
“My sister does gymnastics, so I know what goes into it to be able to make (the prosthetic) strong enough and durable enough that it wouldn’t break or she wouldn’t get hurt from using it,” Nance said.
The second attempt fit much better, but Hamaker and Nance went the extra mile by making one more round of adjustments to ensure all the rough edges were rounded off and the prosthetic fit perfectly. As they watched Lacie tumbling in the auxiliary gym at Crockett last week, Hamaker and Nance beamed as the final product allowed the young girl to flip around on the mats that covered the floor.
After she was done tumbling, Lacie gave the prosthetic a ringing endorsement.
“I don’t even know it’s there sometimes,” Lacie said. “I forget that it’s there.”
That was music to Hamaker’s ears.
“You get a different feeling,” Hamaker said. “You feel happier knowing that you made someone else’s life better. You better someone directly instead of through making a product and then selling a product.”
When Hamaker and Nance graduate from Crockett next year, they both want to move on to Tennessee Tech and pursue degrees in engineering. Beyond that, Joleene expects there will be a day when both young men becomes fathers, and when that happens, she believes they’ll fully understand the difference they’ve made in the Lacie’s life.
“They don’t realize the impact that they’ve had just yet, but when they have children, I hope that one day they’ll look back on this and say, ‘I made a difference, and this is what it’s all about,’ ” she said.