Sometimes life-changing moments happen before you even know it and thanks to a UCF team, Annika Emmert received more than what she expected.
The Emmert family planned to travel to UCF, from their hometown of California, to pick up Annika's 3D-printed arm made by Limbitless Solutions, a team led by UCF student Albert Manero.
The 10-year-old was born without her right hand and part of her arm. She thought a Thursday visit to Clearwater Marine Aquarium was just the family trying to pass time before stopping in Orlando, but the UCF team actually made a special delivery right to her.
In Clearwater, Annika got to see her inspiration, Winter the dolphin, who lost her tail when she was 3 months old but was saved by a prosthetic tail designed for her. After meeting Winter, the inspiration for the Dolphin Tale movies and star of the movie, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Annika was in for one more surprise.
"I went to go meet Winter. They asked Cozi to go get the cooler where the fish are. She brought the cooler, she opened the cooler, I looked at it and I'm like 'this is not fish.'" Annika said.
What she thought was dolphin food was actually her new robotic arm.
Bursting into tears and joy, "[Annika] immediately tried to put it on. But she didn't know what to do with it, so she just held it tight," mother Karon Emmert said.
Past Limbitless recipients, seven-year-old Alex Pring and 10-year-old Wyatt Falardeau, joined the Knights and aquarium staff to help pull off the surprise for Annika, according to a UCF news release.
After recovering from a whirlwind of emotions, Annika and her family visited UCF Friday to see the team and have the arm checked for any adjustments needed to be made.
Before heading back to Corona, California, the Emmert family spent the day on campus with smiles on their faces and an appreciation for all the help, love and support that has been given to them.
"It's amazing because we're very fortunate and proud to be a part of the Limbitless group. They have accepted us into their family," father Mark Emmert said.
Karon said it's "very important" to spread the word about Limbitless and help other children who are looking to receive the same support and care as they did.
The UCF-based, nonprofit Limbitless Solutions is made of a group of friends and classmates who construct and deliver functioning 3D-printed arms that are accustomed for children.
"There is a process where we really get to know the kids. We ask them a lot of questions about their interests and tailor the design to the individual child," said Dominique Courbin, director of production for Limbitless.
Stratasys, an Israeli-American company, teamed up with Limbitless to provide the 3D printing technology needed for Annika's arm.
"Using technology to make people's lives better and shape their lives is what we're all about, what 3D printing is all about. It's what makes our day and what our end goal is here," said Michael Swack, who is the marketing manager for Stratasys.
The team has currently raised $3,015 out of the $5,000 needed to complete the Christmas challenge.
Marina Guerges is the Editor-in-Chief at the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @marinaguerges or email her at MarinaG@CentralFloridaFuture.com.