Matt Thomas, a young mechanical engineering graduate of Utah Valley University, is one of those exceptional people who is always at the service of others. His latest service project was printing prosthetic hands on a 3D printer for underprivileged children in the Philippines and South America.
Thomas’s adventure in 3D printing began in March 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Doctors and nurses around the world were in dire need of 3D printed respirators with reusable filters. Being inclined to mechanics, Thomas bought materials and learned how to use the printer himself.
He organized a group of 3D printing enthusiasts to create respirators and filters. Some were inexperienced, forcing Thomas to spend countless hours creating digital tutorials. In addition, he has produced several training videos on viruses, masks and materials.
“Our group has printed about two million devices for doctors and nurses in Utah, New York and even Israel,” said Thomas. “But I wanted to help in other ways. So, I started doing research on 3D printing and I thought, “What about kids who don’t have hands?”
During the research, he learned of a non-profit organization called Enable the future whose basic mission is to recruit volunteers, globally, to print free 3D hands, arms and fingers for those who have lost them.
By partnering with ETF, Thomas was able to print and assemble 14 hands for underprivileged children in the Philippines and South America. “A 3D printed and assembled prosthetic hand costs less than $ 10,” he said, “But the hand means the world to the person who receives it.”
EFT had provided Thomas with the print files, but found them cumbersome with a long processing time. Still the 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 chalk on the pavement, or grab a bottle of water, or balance on a bicycle when they couldn’t before is worth the work,” said Thomas. “The icing on the cake is seeing what the mechanical hand does for them.”
His UVU academic advisor was impressed with his efforts and suggested that he turn his work with EFT into a credit internship. Part of his internship included conducting a study to determine if parts and materials could be disinfected, used for food containers, and if the pieces were medically viable. Working with EFT, he has grown ten types of bacteria, cultured them and photographed the parts under the electron microscope.
“Being able to add the microbiology part to my mechanical engineering office has been beneficial for me and the department,” he said. “I took lessons in anatomy, phlebotomy, microbiology and medicine. I like to learn and connect the dots. “
All was going well with Thomas’s school and service projects when tragedy struck – his mother died of complications from the COVID vaccine on Mother’s Day in 2021 – was his rock and foundation.
She explained that her mother worked for years as a head nurse at the University of Utah hospital, intensive care unit and had battled type 1 diabetes since her teens. Many days of her her diabetes made her sick at work. “I’ve seen her fight diabetes every day as she saved young lives at Primary Children’s Hospital. She was there and she was just saving lives, “she said. She was vaccinated for COVID-19 and, unfortunately, the vaccine triggered her immune response, which resulted in a heart attack that took her life.
Thomas’s mother lived on a quote she often repeated to him: “You will never regret being kind.” “I thought she 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 has always been there for me and she has guided me ”.
The quote from his mother became Thomas’ motto for the service.