Tabetha Noel-Ratcliff’s one and only wish was to was play in the marching band.
The 15-year-old Northwest High School freshman has practiced the French horn for years and couldn’t wait to switch to the mellophone, a similar instrument musicians prefer for marching. But her right hand wasn’t quite up for the task.
Tabetha was naturally born with symbrachydactyly, which means she has full control over her right arm, but her hand and fingers aren’t fully developed. Together with a lot of other things, the condition makes managing an instrument while moving extremely hard. “It’s a little more bumps, up and down,” she said. “Makes it harder to play, and also it’s just harder to balance.”
Her band director noticed her struggle and appealed to the school’s STEM-focused robotics teacher, who knew the amazing student they had to reach out to. Clark Strong, who had never even met Tabetha, has been involved in 3-D printing ever since his grandfather introduced him to it many years ago. The 16-year-old immediately agreed to take on the project without receiving any kind of credit for it.
Clark closely paid attention to the way Tabetha played and designed a prosthetic to help her balance her instrument. He then used the 3-D printer he has at home to produce the hard plastic device.
Tabetha now uses the tool every single time that she plays, and she’s super happy that she can finally pursue her passion. “If there weren’t people that did stuff out of the kindness of their heart, I wouldn’t have a prosthetic,” she said. “I wouldn’t be doing as good in band.”
Being able to see Tabetha march during football games is also important to Clark. “To know that you’re able to help someone, it’s very rewarding,” he said
The feeling is even more visible for him because he can’t watch her without his grandpa crossing his mind. “He passed away a little over a year ago,” Clark said. “It has been very helpful to be able to sort of carry on his legacy in this 3-D printing. And it’s kind of why I keep doing it: to be able to help others, but to also honor him.”
What a moving legacy! All it took was a spark to ignite this smart student’s mind, and then he used his talent for good. We can help a lot of people around us by paying attention to their needs!