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How many of us look at our problems and see only the empty space that’s holding us back? If only I had more… X, or Y, or Z. Each of us can fill in that blank as only we know how – after all, most of us are master complainers, are we not? Count me in to your illustrious company. I know how to lament like the best of them.
But then someone comes along who upends the whole scheme. Someone whose problems are so much bigger than ours, and who shows us another way forward. Not complaining, not lamenting, not sighing over what could have been but never was, not uncorking yet another bottle of wine… but working, thinking, creating. Strategizing. Patiently looking for an ingenious solution to the problem. And perhaps even enjoying the process.
Because prior to that, I’m guessing, is a deep acceptance of the limitation. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; for starters, it means not living in denial. It’s just… being in touch with reality, and then working to improve that reality. And that’s where the magic happens.
Take the case of David Aguilar, an 18-year-old boy from Andorra (that’s a tiny country of about 78,000 inhabitants nestled between France and Spain). Imagine being born with a stump for your right arm – which most of us consider essential to almost every task in life – and having to figure out how to make it in the world without it. I’m sure, at some point, there were shadows of discouragement: why am I not like the other children? I will never be able to play basketball. I will never be able to… the list could go on forever.
But David had something greater than that: a native curiosity, an interest in building things, in learning how the pieces fit together to make a functional, beautiful whole.
Even from a young age, he saw Legos as a natural ally. Small pieces come together into a larger whole. Inert pieces become mobile, flexible. Things acquire meaning and purpose when they are put together. Just follow the map – and when you have learned how things fit together, create your own map.
And that’s what he did. At the age of 18, David created his own prosthetic arm out of Lego pieces. Specifically, he took pieces from a Lego set and used them in such a way that his stump of an arm, which retains some very limited mobility, could control the prosthetic limb’s “fingers,” directing them to open and shut, grip and release. A Lego helicopter’s components became the raw ingredients of his newly acquired tactile mobility.
David said, “I made an arm out of Lego pieces that I had used before to make a helicopter. I took it apart and built it, using the form of my hand. It completely fits the interior part of my arm.” He explained that he can control the opening and closing of his hand from his stump.
“When I move the arm, the hand opens and closes, which allows me to grasp light objects and open and close” the prosthetic hand. He added, “With what was a toy, I’ve been able to fulfill my dream.”
But this was not his first attempt. At age nine, he had already attempted to create a prosthetic arm out of Legos, using duct tape to stick it to his arm. He is now 18. He has been working on this for nine years.
David, who is now in his second year of studies at a tech university, had always said he wanted to be an aeronautics engineer, but now he’s also attracted to computer science and robotics.
Only time will tell, of course. But two things are clear: he has been remarkably persistent in his quest to create an arm where he has nothing but a stump; and his effort to overcome his handicap makes him even more remarkable as a human being.