Pictured (L to R) are Jeremy, Zoe, Leah and Avery Kilgore. Zoe Kilgore was born without a left hand, but thanks to J.C. Innovations and others, she has a prosthetic and attachments to help enrich her life. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Pictured (L to R) are Jeremy, Zoe, Leah and Avery Kilgore. Zoe Kilgore was born without a left hand, but thanks to J.C. Innovations and others, she has a prosthetic and attachments to help enrich her life. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Zoe Kilgore, 5, is planning on playing T-ball this year and a prosthetic hand attachment will help her catch the ball like a glove.

Another attachment helps her balance better on her bicycle, while another will help her hold a bat when she’s up to the plate. Her main prosthetic helps her do things like hold a brush to comb her hair.

The prosthetics and attachments have become a part of Zoe’s life thanks to J.C. Innovations; its president, Jody Claypool; Trine University and Grace College engineering students; and Kosciusko County Community Foundation (KCCF). Claypool established the Helping Hands program that designs and provides prosthetics for children, according to KCCF CEO Stephanie Overbey. He also is the donor who established The Helping Hands Fund at the Foundation.

In an interview Sunday at their Warsaw home, Jeremy and Leah Kilgore, Zoe’s parents, talked about Zoe and the Helping Hands program and fund.  

“Zoe was born after a extremely long morning and day of labor. So we had an emergency C-section and they took Zoe right away to go clean her up, which is pretty normal,” Jeremy said.

After waiting in the waiting room for a while, Jeremy went to go see her but was told to hold on a minute.

“Just kind of the tone, you could tell something was a little off. They had already X-rayed her hand and said, ‘Hey, she’s fine, but she only has one hand,’” he recalled.

It came as a shock. They talked to the doctor the next day about it, but the doctor and his team couldn’t find anything in reviewing the ultrasounds that would have indicated an issue.

“There’s five different ways that they call it and the last one is just a misfire. So it misfired and that’s the rare form of it, but there’s really no explanation for it,” Jeremy said. “... It just didn’t form in the womb.”

Since Zoe was born with only her right hand, she never knew any differently. “(She) crawled, held a bottle, did everything normal as a little kid does,” Jeremy said.

In 2017, when Zoe was 2, Leah’s former boss at Harrison Elementary, Randy Polston, called and told them about a group that presented at the Warsaw Breakfast Optimist Club about printing 3D prosthetic hands. Polston asked the Kilgores if they’d be interested and they were willing to give it a try.

Jeremy and Leah met with Claypool and his business partner.

“They just said, ‘Hey, we want to make a prosthetic hand, see kind of where this goes, see if it has any function, see if she wants to, if she doesn’t want to, and go from there,’” Jeremy said.

They had three or four 20- to 90-minute meetings with J.C. Innovations. Claypool came up with the idea of taking a mold of Zoe’s hand and see if that could fit the brace. Couple weeks later, after taking the mold, they provided the Kilgores with the first prototype.

There’s been several innovations since then. Leah said, “They’ve made slight improvements as time has gone on.”

Claypool has served as a professor on the side at Trine University and then Grace College. For the senior project, the Trine and Grace students made a 3D printed hand with some modifications. Then Claypool, at J.C. Innovations, had a couple of summer interns that helped create some new iterations to it. Back at Grace, students worked on some attachments, like baseball gloves and one to grip the handlebar on a bike.

“So as the need has come up, we’ll tell them like, ‘Hey, we want Zoe to be able to do this. Can you help us figure out, can we brainstorm different attachment pieces and different hand prototypes that we can use for her that would just help enrich her life more?’ So that’s why they made the catcher’s mitt, they made a hand that can hold a wooden spoon to help stir while cooking in the kitchen. They’re doing one to hold a baseball bat,” Leah explained.

According to a story from The Washington Post, thousands of children are born with limb differences in the United States every year, and many do not have access to affordable prosthetics. Prosthetic limbs can cost from $5,000 to over $50,000, and many insurance carriers restrict financial coverage, placing limits on how much they will pay.

Leah said they haven’t gone through insurance with Zoe.

“We’ve taught Zoe that she doesn’t need anything to help her. She can figure out things her own unique way and she’s very creative about it,” Leah said. “There were times where she struggled trying to figure out how to get her own clothes on. She persevered and figured it out herself and has her own way of doing things. So we’ve kind of taught her to be independent in that way where she is not dependent on anything.”

Leah said the hands and attachment pieces just enrich Zoe’s life more.

“It’s just those little things here and there that just make her life a little easier sometimes,” Leah said, noting that at school and in physical education, Zoe doesn’t use any attachments. “She doesn’t need it, so we’ve taught her to be independent in that sense.”

Jeremy said the Helping Hands program is helping three other children besides Zoe, with two in Columbia City and one in Warsaw, and they’re just trying to reach out to anybody else.

“That’s why Helping Hands went under Kosciusko County Community Foundation, just to bring in more money that way, because it’s no cost to us as recipients,” Leah said.

A relatively new fund at the Kosciusko County Community Foundation, the Helping Hands Fund provides grants to support the design, creation, production and distribution of prosthetic hands for children, according to Overbey. The fund works through the engineering programs of area universities. A university can apply for a grant for the materials needed to design and produce the prosthetic hands, the university’s engineering students design and produce the hands based on the unique specifications of the children benefitting from the hands.

The hand is provided free to the recipient child.

“It’s really turned into a nice project for students,” said Jeremy. “It’s practical.”

“They’re designing with a purpose,” Leah said.

Donations are needed to grow the Helping Hands Fund in order to award more grants for the design and production of prosthetic hands. Donations for the fund can be made with checks payable to the Kosciusko County Community Foundation, 102 E. Market St., Warsaw, IN 46580. The donor should write “Helping Hands” in the memo line. Credit card donations to the fund are accepted at www.kcfoundation.org/donors/donate-now/. Donors should select Helping Hands Fund from the fund listing on the donation page.

“It just helps, not just with some basic functions, but if the kid wants to try something but they’re scared to try, you talk to the team, you talk to Jody, you talk to Fred over at Grace and they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll try to do that,’” Jeremy said.

“It’s fun to have the brainstorming sessions with them of what your child needs, what your child wants to be doing next and how they can help you and help the child, and that’s really nice,” Leah said. “I know they’ve been looking for other kids like Zoe just so they can help them out and everything.”

If anyone knows of a child who could benefit from a prosthetic hand, they should contact the Helping Hands program at J.C. Innovations at info@jc-innovations.com.