Ten people making Orlando a better place to be 

People we love 2018

Page 5 of 10

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett

Albert Manero

President, Limbitless Solutions

When Albert Manero and his team began 3-D printing robotic arms for children in 2014 as a side project, the University of Central Florida alumnus says they were focused on increasing a prosthetic's dexterity and making it financially accessible for parents. He didn't realize he would be creating a space where kids with disabilities could finally be themselves.

"When we met some of the kids for the first time, they were afraid to go to the grocery store because of how people would treat them," Manero says. "To watch these kids grow up to be some of the most expressive and articulate young adults, has been an incredible process for the last four years.

"We always wanted them to know that they were already complete."

The 28-year-old president of Limbitless Solutions came to UCF from East Lake about 10 years ago to specialize in aerospace engineering. Four years ago, Manero gathered a group of friends specializing in everything from engineering to nursing to sewing to build a 3-D-printed bionic arm for Alex Pring, who was born missing most of his right arm. While a traditional prosthetic limb – which Alex would outgrow – might have cost the Pring family about $40,000 in out-of-pocket expenses, the UCF team's process lowered the price point to less than $350 and they gave the arm to Alex for free.

Alex's journey inspired many, including Robert Downey Jr., who plays the genius billionaire-turned-superhero Tony Stark in the Marvel movies. As part of Microsoft's "Collective Project," the actor helped Limbitless Solutions deliver to Alex a new bionic arm styled like Iron Man in a video that went viral on YouTube with more than 10.5 million views.

"Now when people see Alex they don't ask, 'What happened to you? Is there something wrong with you?'" Manero says. "Instead, they ask 'How did you get your arm? How does it work? What can you do with it?' Being able to change that whole conversation for us was the most wonderful thing."

Since working with Alex, the nonprofit has provided bionic arms to dozens of children for free from their small office on the UCF campus. Manero says Limbitless Solutions has worked on making the prosthetics for children more expressive and colorful with individual designs, like a paint-splattered blue arm or one encrusted with jewels, because kids often reject dull, "lifelike" plastic prosthetics. Currently, Limbitless Solutions is making removable covers for the bionic arms so that kids can switch out sleeves based on their mood. Manero says the nonprofit would also like to venture onto the international stage by helping children who need prosthetic limbs in conflict zones.

What started as a side project has become an all-consuming enterprise for Manero, but he says he likes to distract himself with cooking and music to keep his creativity flowing.

"It's been a real rollercoaster," Manero says. "We never thought it would snowball like this, but it's been so rewarding and absolutely worth putting all of our energy into."

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