MIE Undergraduate Arie Aviksis Touches Caregiving Parent “Long-distance” Through His 3D Printing Skills
Sometimes we lose sight of the personal side of engineering, in which a talented and principled engineer can help people in trouble to cope with a difficult life when they have nowhere else to turn. Such was the case when undergraduate student Arie Aviksis of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department reached across time zones, space, and the Internet to come to the aid of Toronto mother Laura Rosen Cohen, whose son is severely developmentally disabled.
Aviksis used his 3D printing skills to create a rare but necessary part for a gastrostomy feeding tube, which is required for Cohen to nurture her son. In fact, before Aviksis intervened on Cohen’s behalf, she literally could not find the part anywhere else on earth.
As Cohen explains her situation, “My son has a rare genetic disorder and is severely developmentally disabled. He has been tube-fed his entire life. A gastrostomy tube (or G-Tube) is a small tube that goes directly into the stomach and is for people who either can't or won't eat enough to keep themselves healthy and alive.”
Cohen belongs to a community of parents and caregivers who blend real food for their loved ones and feed it into the G-Tube because this method is healthier and more nutritious than the alternative of using processed formulas. “Some of us use big syringes to push the food into the G-Tube,” says Cohen, “and there is a whole sub-culture of where to get the equipment online, like the syringes, extension tubing, etc. One of the best ways to feed people real food is with what's called an ‘O-Ring’ syringe.”
However, in order to actually insert the food into the G-Tube, each of these “O-Ring” syringes requires a special tip adapter.
“For some reason,” says Cohen, “these little tip adapters are nowhere to be found! Nowhere online, it is the weirdest thing. I and some other parents searched everywhere for them…Nobody is manufacturing them.”
With only a couple of these crucial tip adapters left in her possession, Cohen effectively sent out a desperate worldwide SOS over the Internet, asking for someone with 3D printing skills who might be able to fabricate some of these devices for her. That’s when Aviksis came to the rescue after being alerted by his uncle to Cohen’s predicament.
As Aviksis says about his motivation for aiding Cohen, “I was more than happy to help Laura. It was a challenge and a privilege to apply my engineering knowledge and 3D printing hobby in a real-world application and help someone in need.”
But it wasn’t easy. “The adapter needed to taper on the smaller end that fits into the G-Tube,” explains Aviksis, “and only taper on the interior wall of the other end that fits around the syringe. Additionally, the syringe side needed to have extrusions on the exterior to create a texture to firmly hold while attaching everything.”
As Cohen recalls about the intervention by Aviksis, “He was heaven sent! It took some explaining and a little back and forth. I sent him a used G-Tube and the syringe, and we had a FaceTime call…Arie was so nice and patient and lovely.”
Consequently, as Aviksis recalls, “I created a model on Solidworks meeting these specifications that was similar to the example adapter she sent me to compare from. It was a complex geometry and impossible for someone with limited means to make cheaply without a 3D printer. I have my own personal 3D printer but [Machinist Colby Norwood] at the [MIE] engineering lab machine shop was nice enough to print them on the much fancier 3D printer they have, creating much-better-quality adapters.”
Cohen concludes that “The end result is that Arie printed I think a dozen tips for me, so I have a full stash, and I am so relieved. He didn't want anything in return, he just wanted to do a good deed and, honestly, I can't thank him enough!”
The collaboration between Cohen and Aviksis was a “win-win” for everyone. As the Bard put this kind of compassionate interaction so eloquently, “The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; It blesseth him [or her] that gives and him [or her] that takes.” (February 2023)