At age 15, Aaron Westbrook created an upper-limb prosthetic device using recycled plastic and New Albany High School's 3D printer.
It was the beginning of an interest in innovative, 3D-printed assistive devices made from eco-friendly material that would lead to the founding of the New Albany graduate's nonprofit Form5 Prosthetics, for which he serves as CEO.
"It allowed for me to see a problem that not only I was facing, but (also) other people like myself were facing," said Westbrook, who was born without a hand and wrist on his right arm.
Now 20 years old and a sophomore business major at Ohio State University, Westbrook is juggling higher education while working on his latest project for Form5 that will allow five more people with limb differences the opportunity to design 3D-printed devices for specific tasks.
His track record of innovation also has helped inspire changes in Ohio laws to account for evolving technology with 3D printing and prosthetic devices after complaints about his inventions reached the highest levels of state government.
Collaboration and fabrication
As a teenager, Westbrook already was using 3D printing to find free solutions for other people with limb differences.
In 2016, he created an arm for Maddie Horvath, then a first-grader at Scioto Ridge Elementary School in Powell, who, like him, has a forearm ending just past the elbow joint.
In 2017, Westbrook created a prosthesis for Tate Simmons, then a fifth-grader at Worthington's Wilson Hill Elementary School, that would allow him to hold a bow to play the cello.
Last summer, he worked with five individuals to outfit them with adaptive devices, he said.
This fall, Westbrook is aiming to help five more people during a four-day workshop in November he plans to hold at his Form5 office in Gahanna, where he has his own 3D printers.
CO-FAB, named to denote "collaboration" and "fabrication," is an event designed to give individuals with upper-limb loss the opportunity to work with engineers to create task-specific prosthetic devices, such as for playing a sport or an instrument, Westbrook said.
Though Westbrook is seeking sponsors for those engineers, the workshop will be funded partially by a $4,000 charity grant from the Raines Group | HER Realtors, he said.
Through Aug. 7, any Ohio resident with an upper-limb loss may apply to participate in CO-FAB at form5prostheticsinc.org, Westbrook said.
Westbrook said he and Form5 board members would select the five candidates.
Rourke Adams, president and technical director of the Form5 board, said people typically come to the nonprofit seeking a specific device for a need. Past projects have included devices for riding a bicycle, holding a microphone, kayaking and fishing, he said.
With the CO-FAB project, Form5 is collaborating to expand what the nonprofit organization is able to accomplish, Adams said.
"There are a lot of people that want to help and don't necessarily know how," he said. "So this is pulling resources together."
Westbrook said he also is looking for five to seven interns to work alongside the candidates and engineers. Prospective interns who are pursuing a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, biomedical product design or related fields with an interest in prosthetics may apply at form5prostheticsinc.org, he said.
Each of the five participants will be paired with an intern, and skilled engineers from local industries would help facilitate the vision of each prosthetic device, Westbrook said. By the last day of the event, he said, the goal is for each candidate have a prototype or concept for their devices.
Although the prosthetic industry primarily is focused on generic designs, prosthetic devices should be very individualized devices, Westbrook said.
"I think we know better than anyone else what we need," he said.
Regulations and outcomes
A state government initiative should make it easier for Westbrook and others like him to innovate in the field of prosthetic-device design.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said his office was alerted to complaints from the state's Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Athletic Trainers Board -- which oversees prosthetic regulations -- about Westbrook's work. Specifically, Husted said, Ohio is one of 15 states that regulates prosthetic devices.
According to a June 13 news release from Husted's office, state law requires prosthesis developers to obtain a license from the Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Athletic Trainers Board. That license requires a bachelor's degree, a residency program, a minimum of eight months working under the supervision of a licensed prosthetist, an examination and a fee. The license process could take more than six years, according to the release.
The regulations were written before 3D printing was invented, Husted said.
"To me it was pretty much a no-brainer to say, 'Well, clearly, these are outdated, and we need to have some flexibility in the law to account for the types of things Aaron is trying to do,' " Husted said.
Husted said he reached out to state Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon), who introduced an amendment to the state's budget that would provide flexibility for Westbrook and others like him in the area of 3D-printed prosthetic devices. State lawmakers have missed the June 30 deadline to approve the two-year state budget, but Husted said July 11 he anticipated the budget would be approved "any day now."
Westbrook said he hasn't received any notice to stop 3D-printing prosthetic devices. The devices that he makes under Form5 could be considered "assistive devices" rather than prosthetic devices, he said. But if someone has the ability to 3D-print a leg, he asked, "Why would we not call that a prosthetic leg?"
The regulations in the law have set back the prosthetic-device industry, Westbrook said. And though the task-specific devices he creates are not technically prosthetic devices, users should be able to call them that if they desire, he said.
Terms aside, Westbrook has continued to lay the groundwork for more prosthetic-device creation. He still is collecting plastic to be turned into 3D-printed material, also known as "filament." He has held four plastic drives since the beginning of the year that resulted in about 40 boxes of plastic material.
Westbrook's next plastic drive is scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 8 at the New Albany Farmers Market, 200 Market Square.
People may drop off No. 5 polypropylene plastic -- commonly found in medication bottles, yogurt containers, plastic food-storage containers and takeout containers, Westbrook said. Containers should be free of food residue, labeling and packaging, he said.
For more information, go to form5prostheticsinc.org/recycling.