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  Jonathan Naber, center, and Adam Booher, right rear.
Photo courtesy of Bump

Arms for the world

For Jonathan Naber ’11 ENG, the idea for the arm came when he was a sophomore, in a rush of altruism.

He was contemplating an item called the Jaipur Foot and the statistics that produced it: 20 million people in the developing world are estimated to be missing limbs, with 90 percent of those having lost their legs. Hence the Jaipur Foot, a simple rubber prosthetic developed in India that costs approximately $28 and is distributed there and in countries worldwide.

But what, the young man wondered, about arms?

Naber put the problem to his friend Adam Booher ’11 ENG, and the two engineering students started raiding recycling bins and dumpsters, looking for expendables and disposables that could be used to fashion an inexpensive prosthetic arm. That was four years ago. Today, their company, Bump, is headquartered at EnterpriseWorks, a business incubator in the UI Research Park. Using an old, heavy-duty Singer sewing machine salvaged from someone’s aunt’s barn, Booher and other members of the growing company stitch together OpenSocket prosthetic arms, which come in small, medium and large sizes and can be fitted and tightened using an ingenious design that Booher likens to “the tongue in a shoe.”

As for Naber, he’s been spending more or less all of his time in Central America, where Bump has established its presence at several clinics (an effort launched in 2010 with the help of David Krupa ’02 LAS, a biology major who has pioneered services for amputees in Central and South America).

At $300 base price, the Bump OpenSocket isn’t so inexpensive as the Jaipur Foot, but it is far cheaper than a custom-fitted model. Support has come through grants and awards, and the Rotary Club has in place a sponsorship program through which donors can fund arms for those in need. Beyond the countries of Central America await developing nations throughout the world. Need is so great, says Naber, that Bump will never be able to meet it.

But the work is a start. At press time, 40 amputees in Central America and India have OpenSocket arms in place of limbs lost, mostly in accidents and other traumatic incidents, and a team of prosthetists will shortly introduce the arms in Sierra Leone. When a patient is fitted with a limb, Naber observes, “sometimes the families cry because they’re so excited.”

By Mary Timmins

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