Students Build Arm for Young Girl to Play Violin

04 May, 2017

Abdul Gouda and his fellow engineering students needed to complete an important class project for two major reasons: they needed to do so to graduate from Virginia's George Mason University and they needed to do so to help make a young girl's dreams come true.

Isabella Nicola is 10 years old. She wanted to learn to play the violin. But she was born with a shortened arm and without a left hand.

Isabella attends Island Creek Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia. The school's music teacher built Isabella a prosthetic arm. It let Isabella move the bow of the instrument with her left arm and hold the violin with her right arm. But the prosthetic arm was heavy. So the teacher asked for help from George Mason University, which he had attended.

At the same time, Abdul Gouda and four other members of the school's bio-engineering department were looking for a project to complete. Students must complete a project in their last year in the school in order to graduate. The first project idea Gouda and his four teammates had could not be done. So, they needed something new to work on.

Gouda admits he was not sure he wanted to try to create a lighter prosthetic arm.

"It's sort of a lot of pressure," he said. "You've got this young girl who's counting on you and you're expected to deliver."

But Gouda and the other team members -- Mona Elkholy, Ella Novoselsky, Racha Salha and Yasser Alhindi -- accepted the project. They completed many models during the school year. Research on similar projects helped them in the beginning, but they made many mistakes as they worked on the arm.

Isabella talked to the team as they created prosthetic arms for her. The first one weighed 13 ounces. But when she said it was too heavy, the team was able to remove some of the weight.

The team worked with Elizabeth Adams, a professor of music at George Mason. She helped them understand what Isabella would need to be able to play the violin well.

A new prosthetic hand holds a bow for Isabella Nicola Cabrera, 10, at the engineering department of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, April 20, 2017.
A new prosthetic hand holds a bow for Isabella Nicola Cabrera, 10, at the engineering department of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, April 20, 2017.

Recently, Isabella got the team's final prosthetic arm. It was built using a 3-D printer. The team made the arm the color pink, as Isabella had asked. And the team surprised her with another part of the arm that lets her hold onto the front of a bicycle.

She put the arm on and began playing the violin.

"I feel very blessed that I have this amazing group of people," Isabella said.

Isabella had been asking to play a musical instrument for more than a year. Her mother, Andrea Cabrera, said she never told her daughter ‘no.'

"I told her we would try. There was no guarantee the school would be able to do an adaptation," her mother said. "Through these little miracles, it kept going forward."

Isabella always believed her dream would come true.

"I felt right away that I'd be able to play," she said. "I've always had perseverance."

The Associated Press news agency reported this story from Fairfax, Virginia. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

attend – v. to regularly go to (classes, church services, etc.)

prosthetic – n. an artificial device that replaces a missing or injured part of the body

count on – phrasal verb to expect (someone) to do something; to trust (someone); to rely or depend on (someone) to do something

adapt – v. to change (something) so that it functions better or is better suited for a purpose

miracle – n. an unusual or wonderful event that is believed to be caused by the power of God; a very amazing or unusual event, thing or achievement

perseverance – n. the quality that allows someone to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult