Miracles do happen, and for David, that meant crossing paths with Amin Wissa. Cairo American College (CAC) high school student, Amin, designed and 3D printed a prosthetic arm for his elementary school friend, David, following his wish to swing from the monkey bars. It was not an easy task to tackle this story, in particular, given it carried a level of emotion and sentiment that words would not suffice at explaining. We’ll begin soon, but right before we do, really prepare yourself to think that, as human beings, we have so much magic to offer.
17-year-old Amin Wissa is really good at designing and building things. He’s extremely hardworking, given his initiation of two companies as part of the Injaz program to save paper. Both were extremely successful; one of them won the program in Egypt and went to Kuwait for the regionals. Wissa was only 16 when the idea of building an arm for David was introduced. His teacher, Mr. Morris, suggested that for his design technology course he’d work on building a prosthetic arm for his young colleague as an assignment for his internal assessment.
Amin explained that at first, he did not expect his teacher to approach him with such a difficult topic. Even though he won the Design Technology award for the best student in the class, he did not stop once to think that he’d be given responsibility for David’s missing arm. However, because of Amin’s talent, Morris knew and believed that he would succeed. Eventually, Wissa went for it in search of meaning.
The senior later explained that David is adopted; his parents said that because he was born without an arm in the first place, he managed to adapt to an environment of his own. “He would be finishing tasks better than his friends in the playground who had two arms,” Amin said. For that reason, his parents didn’t feel the need to build or design one for him. However, when Amin spoke to him in person and began to ask him questions, he found that his only wish was to climb the monkey bars.
Nowadays, most prosthetics limbs have machines inside them where the order would go from your brain to the machine that then does the task for you. However, for the monkey bars, it didn’t need to be that complicated because all that he needed was a structure that would allow David to grab on to the monkey bar, rotating from one arm to the other. As basic as it sounded, Amin continued to get discouraged again and again, to the point that he felt like nothing was by his side.
Amin met with a professor of biomedical engineering from the American University of Cairo (AUC), trying to see if he could give him any advice regarding this project. He told him to stop the project immediately, letting him know that he’ll fail as many other students did. Instead, he advised him to do something simpler like making him hold a cup for instance. Wissa felt utterly helpless; he had exerted all this energy, desperately trying to fulfill the boy’s wish.
“I felt completely stuck; it felt like an impasse had been reached,” Amin told us. On one level, he wanted to make the boy’s dream come true; he wanted to be the one that puts a smile on his face. Yet, on a completely different level, the odds were against him.
At this point, Amin was left with two options; either to go on or dismiss the whole project and do something simpler. Yet, something did not feel right, it did not sync in. He kept on seeing David’s face over and over again and he could not let go of the happiness he’d bring him if he decided to go for it. So, against all odds, facing all challenges, and carrying all the weight, he went for it.
David was moving to New Jersey four months later, so unlike Amin’s other colleagues, who were still juniors at the time, he didn’t have two years to finish the project. Instead, his project was more challenging as he had to finish it in sixth of the time they had.
So, every day after school, Wissa stayed with his assistant teacher in the lab till 7 and 8 pm. They tested different parts and designs over and over again until they finally found one that barely worked. It was a design that was able to withstand the forces and stressors that would be used, and so they went for it.
On the day of the testing, excited to show David what he had done for him, Amin was going to 3D print the arm but failed; the plastic had melted and everything was disastrous. All that was there was a block of plastic and it was all the material that was left. Amin stood there, gutted, clueless, and infuriated with himself, not knowing what to do; he had spent all this time working on it after all.
However, he refused to accept that this was it. David was supposed to fly New Jersey the next day at 1 pm. So, that night he stayed in the lab until 12 pm trying out different materials until he found one that might possibly work. He made structural changes for it, left it to be printed, and the next morning came to see if it was printed or not. And guess what.. It was printed!
As Amin shared his success, he was speechless at first and all he wanted was to show his friend that there was hope after all. So, he called David’s mum; who was finishing up packing at the time. They met, David put the arm on, and it fit perfectly. He then tried grabbing the monkey bars and he was able to hang with the arm Wissa printed!
For Amin, it was never about the academic part, it was bringing joy to someone in need. Almost everyone was against him, but he refused to let that mean anything. “At some point, it wasn’t about the grade, it wasn’t about how fancy the arm was, it was about making a difference, and more so, putting everything I had into making one,” Wissa said. “Making him smile was all I needed,” he added.
With self-belief, persistence, and resilience, anything can happen. And here, it meant showing David that even though he may not have an arm, he was lucky enough to have a miracle like Amin Wissa.