Lifestyle & Human Interest

Engineering Students Build New Artificial Hands for 10-Year-Old Severely Burned in Collision


When sudden tragedy occurs, it can be challenging for us to see any semblance of light in the darkness. Although nothing in the world can replace lost family members, the selfless compassion of others can help us cling to hope as we deal with grief.

Last year, a drunk driver collided with the Reynoso family minivan. The fiery crash killed 34-year-old Juan, 6-year-old Emma and 5-month-old Sebastian. Ten-year-old Julian and his mother survived but sustained serious injuries. Julian’s burns have transformed his face and body, leaving him with only one finger intact.

Upon hearing Julian’s story, mechanical engineering student Ryan Kissinger was moved to act. Through the Quality of Life Plus club at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Kissinger began assembling a team of eight engineering students to create a special gift for Julian.

“He couldn’t play with Legos, he couldn’t do all the simple things that I enjoyed in my childhood,” Kissinger told Cal Poly News. “So, the scope of the project is restoring that for him.”

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Together, the students began work on what they dubbed “Project Midas.” The team of biological, mechanical and electrical engineering students wanted to create prosthetic hands for Julian that would help him resume normal childhood activities, like bike riding or playing sports.

The hands would also assist him with everyday activities, such as opening a door or unscrewing a water bottle cap.

After just 48 hours, Kissinger’s GoFundMe page raised $5,000, which was used to help fund the team’s effort.

Project Midas required a lot of time and energy, which are two resources college students struggle to obtain.

The team committed to completing the project before the end of the school year, all while attending classes and finishing homework assignments. Kissinger even put off his own graduation to focus on the gift for Julian.

Julian’s adolescence made the project especially challenging. As he grew, the students were forced to adjust their work or scrap their progress and start over.

“Not only is it a traumatic experience, but all of the trauma was very fresh, all the injuries were very new,” said Austin Conrad, co-leader of the team.

“The accident was so recent, the scar tissue has changed — the swelling has changed. And to top it all off, aside from the injuries changing because it’s so recent, he’s 10 — so he’s growing.”

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If that didn’t sufficiently complicate things, Julian needed two different artificial hands.

He had no digits on his left hand to operate mechanics. The team was forced to invent a way to control an artificial hand without fingers.

“It’s like drinking from a fire hose,” Kissinger said. “There are so many different components and so many different things to focus on.”

After the process, which was long and exhausting, the students were able to present two new hands to Julian on June 8 at an event on campus.

The boy is in good spirits despite the tragedy he has endured.

He enjoys playing his Nintendo Switch and isn’t afraid to joke with Kissinger and the team.

“A little girl asked ‘What happened to you?'” Julian’s mother, Elizabeth Reynoso, told the Los Angeles Times.  “He told her he was in a war in Fortnite.”

“We want to make something that changes the way he interacts with people,” Conrad said. “We don’t want people to look at him and say ‘What happened to you?’ We want people to look at his hands and say, ‘Wow! What is that?'”

Kissinger wants to be Julian’s “24/7 tech support” from here on out. As Julian grows and his needs shift, Kissinger is willing to continue helping out. For him, Julian’s attitude is inspiring.

“He’s really proved something important to us, the power to prevail in spite of tragedy,” Kissinger said.

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Noel Marquis is a journalist and animal-lover hailing from the Midwest. After an internship with Disney following her college graduation, she pursued a career writing content that makes readers smile. Coffee, books and superhero movies are some of her favorite things.