Growing up without a prosthesis for his limb difference and unsatisfied with the prosthetic arm he received from his clinic during his freshman year at New Albany High School, Aaron Westbrook took it upon himself to create his own.
“When I got my first prosthetic, I knew there had to be better technology,” Westbrook said. “I really wanted an arm that just moved because the one I got from the clinic was like a mannequin hand.”
Westbrook said he was connected with other students his age with limb differences during his freshman year through the Nub Club of Central Ohio for individuals to meet up and share their experiences, exposing him to the technology gaps and struggles people like him were facing with prosthesis. Now a second-year in business, Westbrook has since created a nonprofit to help others with limb differences.
Westbrook said his high school received a grant for a fabrication lab — complete with 3D printers, a laser engraver and wood working machines — during his sophomore year, which was the start of him testing devices to make a prosthetic arm for himself.
Using a 3D printer and instructions he found online, Westbrook created his own arm in four months.
“The thought in my mind most of the time was, ‘Is this even possible? Is this something a 15-year-old can do?’” Westbrook said. “I had a lot of self-doubt and a lot of pressure on myself. I knew that if this were to be successful, it could impact a lot of people. After creating my own arm, I wanted to do my own research.”
Westbrook started a nonprofit in high school called Form5 Prosthetics, which provides eco-friendly, 3D-printed prosthetics with recycled plastics for those with missing limbs.
Westbrook said he raised $2,400 for his own printer through a crowdfunding campaign and used his senior project — a New Albany High School graduation requirement in which students must document 80 hours of work — to provide an arm for someone else. He said he created an arm resembling a panda for a 7-year-old girl through recycled materials.
“3D printers typically use PLA plastic [derived from renewable resources]. It just so happened, miraculously, I was volunteering at the New Albany coffee shop and picked up a coffee cup one day, and it was PLA plastic,” Westbrook said. “I set up bins at school for people to drop off their coffee cups in, and with the support of the entire school district, I was able to source 2,000 cups.”
Westbrook said that was the first prosthetic for his nonprofit, which now has a board of directors to assist him, including a technology director, board president, secretary and treasurer. He said Form5 works with people of all ages and gives recipients an opportunity to be involved in the prosthetic process.
Westbrook said he decided to take a gap year after graduating high school to launch the organization.
“I really wanted to prove to myself I could do Form5 full time,” he said. “I do not regret that time at all. It made me understand what I would need from school.”
Westbrook said that after his gap year, he wanted to start at a smaller college campus, which led him to Ohio State’s Newark campus. He said he made meaningful connections and transitioned to the Columbus campus this year.
Westbrook will host his first nonprofit event this weekend. The four-day workshop, called CO-FAB, will run Friday through Monday and pair five individuals with limb differences with Ohio State engineering students that Westbrook calls volunteer design engineer college students. He said the engineering students will work with them to design their prosthesis.
Westbrook said he chose five individuals from the local limb-difference community in Columbus, including the Nub Club and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
“One is for a young boy who wants to play cello. We’re working with Maddie — who I worked with my senior year — we’re creating a device for her to hold a guitar pick,” Westbrook said. “We’re working with Jodie. She has never rode a bicycle before. Andrew wants a regular arm like mine. Emily is one of the most unique cases. We’re going to develop a helper arm in one for her to do a multitude of different tasks.”
Olivia Koller, a third-year in strategic communication and arts management and a digital communication intern for Form5, said children quickly grow out of the prostheses they get through the medical process.
“Aaron’s process and 3D printing is more efficient,” she said. “The prosthetic is able to be customized, and if they grow out of it, he can use that same plastic to make a new one.”
Koller said she hopes the workshop will become an annual event.
“All the devices we give away are gifted through donations and fundraising. These devices are what people need,” Westbrook said. “It doesn’t make sense that they’re charged $10,000 for something they need. That’s why I wanted to make this more accessible. That’s the goal of the recycling research.”
Donations can be made through Form5 Prosthetic’s website.