Medical makers: 3D printed prostheses, junkbot operating theaters, and networked mutual aid

In Paging Dr. MacGyver, Julian Smith profiles a wide range of medical makers, from patients to carers to doctors, each of whom has homebrewed some important piece of medical or therapeutic equipment. From DIY prosthetic limbs to the wonderful Dr Oluyombo Awojobi, whose rural Nigerian clinic is graced with a collection of his brilliant improvised devices built from scrap, Smith makes the case for a networked world where medical needs, ingenuity, and a spirit of mutual aid and collaboration are offering new opportunities for making each other healthy.

Amelia Marzec’s inspiration to design a hearing-aid helmet was both financial and personal. When a tumor left her deaf in one ear, the Brooklyn-based artist discovered that the standard treatment for her circumstances was a bone-anchored hearing aid (known as a BAHA), which requires a screw implanted directly into the skull, and then a hearing aid that snaps onto the screw to vibrate and conduct sound. The surgery costs from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, and is not always covered by insurance. Insurers rarely, if ever, cover the snap-on hearing aid, which is fragile, has a price tag that can range from $4,000 to $7,000, and requires replacement every several years.

“I realized it sounded like something I could build in my living room,” Marzec says, and that’s exactly what she did, attaching electronics from Radio Shack to a standard construction hardhat. Like the BAHA, the Re-Wired helmet uses bone conduction, routing sound through microphones and amplifiers to a vibration element placed against the forehead. Marzec’s prototype, however, cost only a few hundred dollars to put together — and doesn’t involve surgery.

Paging Dr. MacGyver [Julian Smith/Medium]

(Thanks, Glenn!)