In March 2016, The UPS Store unveiled its new campaign, United Problem Solvers™, which celebrates our passion for helping customers overcome their challenges. Whether it's taking a collaborative approach to problem-solving or using innovative technology such as 3D printing, we pride ourselves on being able to provide solutions to unique challenges our customers face.
One very special customer who has touched all of us is 4-year-old Anthony from Shelbyville, Kentucky, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age two. After undergoing surgery to remove the tumor, he lost his vision. After completing a year of chemotherapy, he has began the road to recovery, and he and his family are hopeful he can forego long-term treatment.
Part of Anthony's recovery includes reintroducing many basic life skills that are more challenging now, due to his blindness. One example is feeding himself. There is one particular spoon that Anthony was able to use successfully. The curvature and length helps kids who are blind to gauge the distance from the food to their mouth more easily. The spoon was introduced to him at his therapist's office and seemed to be a one-of-a-kind. His mother, Cierra Brettnacher, tried to find one and posted a picture of the spoon on Facebook to ask if anyone knew how to get one. Wayne Whitworth, a former U.S. Marine and friend of her father's, saw the post and immediately felt he needed to help.
"As a Marine, we don't leave anyone behind," Whitworth says. "I've never met Anthony but he is a remarkable little boy. I decided to post the picture on my Facebook page and ask my friends how I could get this spoon. I probably got 1,500 responses from people all over the U.S. and as far as Australia who were looking for this spoon. The response I received was tremendous."
Many people sent him pictures of various spoons they found but none of them were close enough to the original. He talked to dentists about dental molding, looked at spoons to buy online and had people looking at manufacturing spoons from different materials.
"Finally, I reached out to Anthony's therapist and asked to borrow the spoon. She let me keep it for one week and I got to work, taking tons of pictures and measuring every angle with calipers to show length, width and height," Whitworth says.
A co-worker asked him if he'd ever thought about 3D printing the spoon. Wayne searched online for 3D printing and found The UPS Store 0830 which happened to be very close to his home. He met with franchisee Debbie Adams to see if it would be possible to recreate the spoon. All he had to give her were the photos and measurements because he had already given the spoon back to the therapist.
"Anthony is blind so finding a spoon that he liked was a real challenge. It just so happened his speech therapist had a spoon he really liked and I looked for months to find it. Wayne got involved and suggested a 3D printer. I said 'give it a try'," said Cierra Brettnacher, Anthony's mother.
In addition to the design challenge of recreating the spoon, the other challenge Adams and Doug Seelbach, her 3D graphic designer, faced was finding Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved materials for 3D printing. When she couldn't find an FDA-approved food safe material, they came up with an alternative solution--to create a handle, but make the spoon portion removable so disposable utensils could be used. Seelbach decided to make two handles--one with a small square on top so Anthony would recognize it was a spoon. The other had a small triangle to identify it as a fork. This gave Anthony more tools to use for a variety of foods.
Wayne went to pick up Anthony's new 3D printed utensils and it was an emotional moment for him.
"Debbie's designer, Doug, did a really great job creating file," Whitworth says. "And Debbie is a remarkable lady. She never gave up. She does not quit. I had tears in my eyes when I picked up the spoon. I tried to pay her and her designer that day but they refused to take my money. I asked for the designer's address to send him a check and he wouldn't even give it to me. I wish I could do something to repay them.
Adams and Seelback both donated their services to help Anthony and his family, providing the 3D printed handles and disposable utensils to go with them. Anthony can feed himself now when he couldn't before.
"When I gave the spoon to Anthony it made a huge difference. I was having to sit and feed two kids at the same time so Anthony having a spoon where he could feed himself not only gave him independence and confidence but it also helped me so I don't have to sit and feed him myself," said Cierra. "This spoon has really made a difference in our family's daily routine. With a spoon he likes we're able to introduce more foods that he wouldn't normally try if we were feeding him. Since he is able to feed himself these foods, he's much more open to them. So this spoon has truly impacted our lives in a variety of ways.
Independence for Anthony, particularly being blind and having limited mobility, is a challenge and this spoon is going to make him a little more independent and free. In fact, he even used his new spoon to eat his birthday cake at his fourth birthday party last weekend.
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