HHS students come to aid of toddler

By BUSTER WOLFE,

For a 17-month-old little girl, Arabella Ruff doesn’t stop. And not having a left hand doesn’t slow her down.

“She has never missed not having a hand and I don’t know that she ever will,” said Cindy Ruff, Arabella’s mother.

However, students in the Hattiesburg High School’s Robotics and Engineering class are giving Arabella the opportunity to change her life by presenting the family with a robotic arm that clinches the fingers as Arabella flexes her arm.

Arabella’s father, Paul, said he was thankful for what the students had accomplished in Stephen Jordan’s robotics class.

“We’re blessed with this little baby girl and certainly are thankful for everything the Lord has given us with her,” he said. “This is just another thing, to think someone would go out of their way and think about you and do things for your family. It’s very humbling and we are very appreciative for everything you have done.”

“We just appreciate this entire group for doing this for our little girl,” Cindy Ruff said. “Everything they have done is so heart-warming and we will be forever indebted to these guys.”

Jordan, who is Arabella’s uncle, said 3D printers allowed the robotics class to produce the parts for the prosthetic arm at a lower cost. Scaling down a prosthetic arm kit meant for older children allowed the students to get the dimensions accurate for Arabella.

“Usually insurance companies don’t like to do prosthetic arms for children because of the cost and the constant growing,” Jordan said. “As they get older, they need a new arm and the arms are very expensive. These can be printed relatively cheaply with a 3-D printer.”

Jordan said the idea of providing a left hand for his niece began about eight months ago when his wife and Cindy Ruff discussed the possibilities.

“At that time, I was in the STEM classroom and knew I had have to 3D printers,” Jordan said. “When I arrived at school this year, I was told I would be teaching robotics and engineering. The project came back up and I was asked again, ‘Do you think you could do it.” I started doing the research, found the files and decided it would be a good project to get my kids involved in. Actually, the files in loaded were from a group called Enable, which creates prosthetic arms for children.

“I had my first-year students start doing introduction to CAD (computer-aided design). I kept them in the loop as to what was going on. I set the stuff into print, let them ask questions and stand over it. We had two students who were involved mainly in printing the parts and assembly. Once I had everything created, I did some assembly and I had my two students do some assembly.”

HHS sophomores Clemon Terrell and Ivory Stallings said they enjoyed helping to make the prosthetic arm, which uses 65-pound braided Spiderwire to control the silicone fingers.

“It is very heart-warming to me,” Terrell said. “The whole situation brings a tingle down my back and makes me feel like a great person.”

For Stallings, he said he was glad that he could provide a helping hand to Arabella.

“For me, it felt great to help somebody who was in need from me being in need at times, from me being able to give back,” he said.

Cindy Ruff said the prosthetic arm will help her even ride a tricycle.

“Like the young man mentioned, with something like basketball or even tumbling, this will be a protective element for her as well,” she said. “This will help in prevention of the overuse of her right hand. This is such a big deal for our family. For these students and this school to have that technology, that’s a big deal. It’s such a heart-warming story, that these young men would do that for her. That’s the future right there, those students and that technology. My mother-in-law called them life changers.”

For Jordan, the joy in making the robotic arm is a much more personal story.

“I’m excited because I get to see the excitement in the kids,” he said. “I get to see the excitement of my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law. For me, it is heart-warming and extremely personal to me. It’s no longer ‘Learn this because Coach Jordan said so;’ there’s a use for this. It’s not just the novelty of designing and building; this is a real-life application.”

Jermaine Brown, director of the Hattiesburg Career and Technical Education Department, said it was a great day to be a Hattiesburg High School Tiger.

“Specifically when you talk about project-based learning within our Career and Technical Education program,” he said. “This is it at its best – project-based learning with a purpose. We are extremely proud of our robotics program and what Coach Jordan has done with this project.”

As a toddler, however, Arabella didn’t show much interest in the prosthetic initially, treating it as a toy. Jordan said he wasn’t surprised.

“I was kind of aware (that she may not be developed enough to use it),” he said. “The plan was for her to get used to it and over time she will understand what’s going on. Then we can really start adjusting and tweaking it and make things more accustomed to her.”

Paul Ruff said he expects Arabella to adapt to using the arm with help from her 10-year-old triplet brothers and 13-year-old sister.

“It’s going to take a little while for her to get used to it,” he said. “We’ll keep working on it.

She’s just not understanding it yet. She’ll play with it and once she gets used to it, then she’ll just thoroughly enjoy it.”

For Jordan, building a prosthetic arm has tremendous benefits for other disabled children and adults in the Pine Belt.

“As we go forward, we plan on doing more,” he said. “I have already been contacted by several other people that are interested in making them. So this is not where this ends. Hopefully, this is only the beginning.”