Project to build boy robotic hand turns into life lesson

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Surrounded by a classroom of budding engineers, 8-year old Cooper Henderson shows off the robotic hand the kids spent months designing and building, just for him.

Born without a left hand, the Douglas County third-grader took the students up on their offer to create a prosthetic hand for him using Bill Arp Elementary School's 3D printer. STEM/Robotics teacher Matt Naumann says Henderson asked for a black and white "Storm Trooper" arm.

"And, we wanted to make it light up," Naumann says.

The whole project began as a lesson in giving back. First, they had to work out the details.

"Making sure that it was right for his size, that it was interesting to him, that it was something he wanted to wear," Naumann says.

Then, 11-year old Ashley Gomez and her schoolmates got to work. They used special 3D software created to build a prosthetic hand.

"We got on Fusion 360, and we started designing his arm," Gomez says.  "We took measurements of his arm to see what size would fit correctly."

"They can't just turn on the printer and say, 'I want to do this,' Naumann says.  "They have to go through and either design it or find the forms they want to use."

Once they had their plans, the 3D printer took over. It lays down melted plastic, one layer after another, to create the hand.

"I like that it lights up and that I can pick up stuff with my left hand," Cooper Henderson says.

But there was another lesson here, not in science or engineering, but in the human spirit.

Because, as grateful as Cooper Henderson is for his artificial hand, he says, he doesn't really need it.

"I was, like, I am already used to having, to not having a hand, because

I can do all the stuff with one hand," he explains.

Henderson he's taught himself how to do what he loves most, like shooting hoops, his own way, showing the students you don't need two hands if you've got heart.

"It teaches me to be brave, that you can be brave," Ashley Gomez says.  " You don't have to have the same as other people."

Cooper Henderson likes playing by his own rules, doing things his way.

In his own quiet way, he is teaching us all a lesson in living without limits.