Michael Peirone: Victoria Hand Project

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Michael Peirone started volunteering with Victoria Hand Project when it was still a university research project, and has seen it grow across the world. Through his years with VHP, Michael has gotten a broad view of the organization as a volunteer, student intern, Biomedical Designer, the COO, and most recently taking on the role of CEO. Michael Peirone will be sharing his experiences at our virtual event 3D Printed Prosthetics.

Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing?

Michael: I first encountered 3D printing when visiting Dr. Nick Dechev’s lab at the University of Victoria. There was an FDM printer and an SLA printer being tested to compare the printing process and to determine which style was best for 3D printing prosthetic arms in developing countries. These were some of the first 3D printers on campus, except for an old, large-format printer that quickly became outdated compared to these desktop 3D printers. I was so amazed by the technology and couldn’t stop starring as each layer of material was laid down. After years of working in the space, my amazement in the printers has decreased, so it is always nice to be reminded of it when people visit the lab and see the 3D printers for the first time.

Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey?

Michael: I chose to study Biomedical Engineering at the University of Victoria to study in a field bridging the gap between engineering and medicine. I did not know exactly what I wanted to do after graduating but I knew that I wanted to do something in Biomedical Engineering. After I started volunteering with Dr. Nick Dechev’s lab I saw the positive impacts that 3D printed prosthetic arms could have in developing countries and knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to this cause.

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Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing?

Michael: I was very fortunate to travel to Nepal to help expand Victoria Hand Project as a student intern in Summer 2016. During my time there, I trained our partners on how to use 3D printing and 3D scanning to make custom prosthetic arms and helped establish operations in Kathmandu. I had the opportunity to sit in on a fitting with a man who traveled for more than a day on a bus to receive a prosthetic arm. He lost his arm 20 years before and never had a prosthetic device. When he arrived, he was very shy and didn’t want anyone to see his missing limb. By the end of the fitting, he became more confident and was even posing for photos. This was one of the first fitting sessions I witnessed and has been one of the most memorable. 

Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work? 

Michael: Some of the recipients of the Victoria Hand will direct message us over Facebook or Instagram expressing how happy they are after receiving their hand.  Many of them say they now feel more confident in public and don’t need to ask others for help. There are times when the work can become difficult, but these messages help us remember how life-changing this care can be to someone in a developing country.

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Jenny: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions? 

Michael: There is such a vast need for prosthetic care, and we want to help but do not have the reach or the resources. We receive many messages from prosthetists and patients in developing countries who want us to expand operations to their area or need a  Victoria Hand. Unfortunately, if they are not close to one of our partner clinics they will need to travel far distances to receive care. Since we are only working in 8 developing countries there are still many people who cannot access care. We are fundraising to expand to new areas of the world where there is a great need for prosthetic care. This will allow more people in the world’s poorest areas to access prosthetic care more easily. 

Jenny: What do you think is (are) the biggest challenge(s) in 3D Printing/bio-printing? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?

Michael: While many prosthetists and orthotists have told us 3D printing has allowed them to reduce waste, the amount of plastic waste is still something we want to decrease. We feel that there can still be many improvements to reduce the environmental impact of 3D printing. Fortunately, we have found groups to collaborate with who will take the 3D printed waste off our hands to recycle it, or to use it in their research. We have also heard of companies accepting back material waste to turn into recycled filament, and customers can receive a discount on future orders if they send material back. We believe that there will be many groups finding unique solutions to reducing waste or upcycling the waste into useful products. 

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Jenny: If you are granted three wishes by a higher being, what would they be? 

Michael:

  1. Funding and resources to expand to more regions in need around the world, including Syria.
  2. Funding and resources to continue our work with existing partners. 
  3. Unlimited R&D budget.

Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”?

Michael: Make time for your hobby (rock climbing for me). You can’t improve the world if you don’t make time for rest and recovery.

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Interview: Dr. Nick Dechev, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Engineering, and is presently Director of the Biomedical Engineering Program

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