Kayla Arqueta was born without her left hand and part of her forearm, but she was determined to play the cello. That’s when a group of local high school students stepped in to make her a prosthetic arm.
Arqueta, who attends Austin Middle School in Irving, Texas, went to tryout night and told the school’s orchestra director Carly Addison that she wanted to join in the orchestra.
“I couldn’t look at Kayla and say no,” says Addison. “When you see a kid advocate for themselves, you just have to do it. Then, it was like all the doors just opened up.”
Addison took to Google and did some research. She found an article about a musical prosthetic developed by Dr. Jennifer Mankoff with the Human Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. The story detailed how a young man learned to play the cello after being given the prosthetic arm.
Addison called the phone number listed on the university website. To her surprise, Dr. Mankoff answered.
“This is a renowned researcher associated with Google, IBM, Microsoft, and she just answered the phone with a, ‘Hi, it’s Jen,'” Addison said. “After confirming it was Jen – as in Jennifer Mankoff – I explained why I was calling, and she said the blueprints on the website were free for public use. We just needed 3D printing technology.”
With this information, Addison reached out to Nimitz High School engineering teacher Dwight Davison, whose classroom had recently acquired three 3D printers.
“He was like, what an awesome opportunity for Kayla, what an awesome opportunity for my students.”
With Davison’s guidance, a group of six volunteer students began creating the prosthetic for Kayla. The students worked through the challenges of being in different class periods as well as more technical issues relating to the prosthetic’s comfort and durability.
With the prosthetic, Kayla can play the cello—and she is so grateful for the students who took the time to help her on her journey to playing music.
“I learned that people are willing to help, and that it’s okay to be different,” Kayla said. “I would like other students to know that life is challenging, but everyone is going to love you for who you are.”