UCF partnership to give more kids 3-D bionic arms

Twelve-year-old Wyatt Falardeau has always dreamed of dancing with a beautiful girl, entwining his fingers through hers. With a new bionic arm, he's already set the date.

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Twelve-year-old Wyatt Falardeau has always dreamed of dancing with a beautiful girl, entwining his fingers through hers. With a new bionic arm, he's already set the date.

UCF announced Monday morning that, along with Limbitless Solutions, it will partner with the Center for Applied Biomedical Additive Manufacturing so children like Wyatt can continue to receive bionic limbs. The school will also benefit from the donation of a 3-D printer.

The student-founded organization uses 3-D printers to create prosthetic limbs for children at no cost to their families. Flooded with requests from more than 40 countries, Limbitless and its founder Albert Manero, a UCF doctoral student, work to make the day these children receive a new limb one they'll never forget.

"When we first learned that Wyatt wanted a bionic Blue Man Group arm, we were humbled, we were honored and thrilled and wanted to be a part to make that day a very special delivery for that arm," said Blue Man Captain Wes Day.

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Video: Blue Man Group presents bionic arm to boy Video by Caroline Glenn, Central Florida Future. Some footage provided by UCF.

At first, Wyatt thought his mom had won a backstage tour in a contest, during which he got to taste the iconic Captain Crunch, wear the horned Viking helmet and even meet the blue men. But soon, Wyatt realized this was no ordinary VIP experience. The Blue Man Group presented him with a blue bionic arm decorated with colorful paint splatters.

Finally, two years after seeing his first Blue Man Group show, he was able to raise his arms and strike the signature pose.

UCF showed a video of the emotional reception after the announcement. Wyatt's parents couldn't help but wipe tears from their cheeks. Their son wrapped his arm around his father's shoulder.

"It was just completely overwhelming to have people who you don't even know reach out and show such love and passion. It was a truly humbling experience," his mother Cynthia said. "You have big days in your life, but the Blue Man Group and seeing Wyatt with his arms is probably one of the biggest days of our life and one that I think we'll never forget.

"And just to see your child celebrated for his differences — it's an incredible gift."

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Although Cynthia made peace with her son's differences long ago, she said it's been incredible to watch him do things he wasn't able to do before — a lot of things she said most people take for granted. He loves to drum, for example.

Wyatt was born with autism and had his right arm amputated soon after his birth. And ever since Wyatt watched the video where 7-year-old Alex Pring received the first Limbitless bionic arm, he's wanted one for himself.

"I wanted to get this arm; it's pretty cool," he said. "I can do different things now like dance with girls, ride a bike and play with my Xbox and all that kind of cool stuff."

And Wyatt's not the only one to receive a "superhero" arm. In March, Robert Downey Jr. presented Alex with an Iron Man arm. It replaced the original arm he was given by Limbitless Solutions. His mom Alyson says Alex loves to help people and is always thinking of new ideas for his next arm.

"He had mentioned Captain America, but I don't think Iron Man would like that very much," she laughed.

Especially excited for the partnership is dean of UCF's College of Engineering and Computer Design Michael Georgiopoulos.

"I hope that these students inspire this excellence and innovation and creative, and a lot of our other students in the College of Engineering and Computer Science," he said. "So eventually the students that come out of the college will have this attitude that, 'I'm going to do great, I'm going to help the world and I'm going to help society and I'm going to conquer the world."

John Sparkman, an engineering student and one of the directors for Limbitless Solutions, said his team never thought the company would take off like it has.

Limbitless has brought international recognition to UCF by providing children like Alex and Wyatt with superhero arms. Michael J. O'Donnell, executive director for the UCF Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and director of UCF's Venture Accelerator, said with its enormous growth, the mission is clear: to establish "world-class interdisciplinary research facility and a marketplace to provide cost-effective and functional, innovative biomedical solutions."

Monday's speakers invited other institutions, organizations and those in the field to collaborate with the partnership.

"Would you turn down someone who asked you for help in that situation?" Sparkman said. "The answer's no."

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Caroline Glenn is the News Editor at the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @byCarolineGlennor email her at CarolineG@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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