9-year-old receives 'Frozen'-themed prosthetic arm

Karissa Mitchell knows what it’s like to stand out in a crowd, which is why she identifies with Elsa, the main character of Disney’s animated film “Frozen,” so well. Like Elsa, who faces criticism for having trouble controlling her unique powers, 9-year-old Karissa, of Stillwater, New York, was born missing her right hand and most of her wrist.

But thanks to a group of Siena College students who 3-D printed a “Frozen”-themed prosthetic arm for Karissa, the little girl is feeling more confident in her skin.

“Karissa really identifies with Elsa because she knows what it's like to be different from everyone else,” Maria Mitchell, Karissa’s mother, said in a Siena College news release. “She doesn’t want to be seen as different, which has made her extremely determined to do things as well, if not better, than others.”

The Albany, New York, students previously designed an Iron Man-themed prosthetic hand that they gave to 5-year-old Jack Carder, of Ohio. When Maria learned of the gift, she reached out to see if the eight-student team could help Karissa too. The students are part of a global volunteer network, Enabling the Future (e-NABLE), that creates free prosthetic limbs for people in need.

“When we met Karissa and her family, they were so nice and it was a great fit,” Alyx Gleason, a physics major and a leader of Siena’s e-NABLE chapter, said in the release. “Karissa’s face lit up when we showed her a test hand. She is a very deserving girl.”

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Gleason and her team used computer-aided design files on the e-NABLE website to print the customized pieces for Karissa’s prosthetic. Creating the artificial limb took six months of trial and error, but only 30 hours of printing and two hours of assembly, according to the release.

While they prioritized functionality, the team also gave the arm a bit of “Frozen” flair by including a removable Olaf light— a nod to another one of the beloved movie’s characters.

Although the students honed their engineering, physics and problem solving skills during the project, Miranda Marnes, another leader of the college’s e-NABLE chapter, said the most rewarding part of their effort was the look on Karissa’s face when she received her new prosthetic.

“Knowing that we are using the skills and knowledge we have gained throughout our journey at Siena to make a difference in the lives of our recipients is just an amazing feeling,” Marnes said in the release.