Limbitless Solutions, the UCF-based non-profit that makes 3D printed arms for children at no cost, will receive a $1 million bequest from “a kid from Oklahoma” and it all started with what looked like spam email.
“I was hunting for a team that had the right mindset,” said Anne Smallwood, the donor who sent an email out of the blue with an offer that seemed too good to be true. “There are brilliant engineers all over this country. How the Limbitless team internalizes their objectives is important. They care about the outcome, but they are thinking past the idea of just turning out a really good product. They are thinking about how it will change the life of the recipient. And that’s what mattered to me.”
“How the Limbitless team internalizes their objectives is important. … They are thinking about how it will change the life of the recipient.”
Smallwood is not a multi-millionaire. She is a self-described Navy brat who grew up in the Midwest. She retired from clinical research in the pharmaceutical industry, but still teaches courses at Drexel University College of Medicine. One course centers on the process of taking a drug or device from the lab through the labyrinth of development and federal regulation all the way to the patient. She has more than 30 years of experience in that arena, so Smallwood will be advising Limbitless at no cost to help this team as they proceed on their mission to have children’s prosthetics eventually covered by insurance companies.
Smallwood is able to make this bequest because she didn’t “live up” to her income, and was able to save a nest egg that will benefit Limbitless and two other charities that are close to her heart. Through her estate, she has provided a $1 million bequest that will provide future support for UCF’s Limbitless Solutions to continue its work. “I’m so happy about this, it’s almost a shame I’m not dying right now,” she said. “But I want to be here to help fund-raise, find other allies, and hopefully smooth the path for Limbitless.”
Her family had a general rule that said, “Leave it better than you found it (not so much fun when staring at the kitchen sink), although sometimes you had to think about just what that meant and not interfere too quickly.” She grew up around military families and knows their loved ones didn’t come home unchanged from the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Smallwood has outlived all her close family, which was heart-rending at the time but paved the way for using her resources to make a long-term impact which will honor her military roots.
Making the Connection
Initially she wanted to donate to a university that was working on novel prosthetics that could benefit veterans. “It grieves me that the average waiting time to get an artificial limb is about two years,” Smallwood said. “The limb is needed because the veteran has generally been blown up and watched troops nearby die in the process. Can you imagine waiting for something that can help you dress, pick up your child, and have a more normal life?” Smallwood emailed several universities that had groups working on prosthetics asking for a meeting because she wanted to give a gift. Most never responded. UCF engineering professor Alain Kassab received one of those emails and forwarded it to Limbitless founder Albert Manero ’12 ’14MS ’16PhD.
“I still remember seeing the email and asking, is this for real?” Manero said. “We checked it out and we are so glad we did. Anne is amazing. She cares more about people and wants her legacy to be more than just a donation. It’s about changing lives, which is part of our core beliefs.”
“[Anne] cares more about people and wants her legacy to be more than just a donation. It’s about changing lives, which is part of our core beliefs.”
Manero explained to Smallwood that children have a need for prosthetics because accessibility is limited for many reasons: children can outgrow the prosthetic, there is a higher rejection rate due to a device’s weight or appearance, and insurance companies may balk at exceedingly high price tags of the technology. He also shared other projects the group is working on, including Project Xavier, a device that allows a person who is paralyzed from the neck down to drive a wheelchair simply by using facial muscles.
Smallwood was thrilled. She saw the possibility of Limbitless making a difference for children immediately. She also believes that this and other projects on the horizon will help veterans. But she said what won her over wasn’t the technology or ingenuity — although that is “spectacular.”
“I read a lot about leadership and decision making and development, and it seems that if all skill sets were equal, it is the heart and the perspective of the team that makes the difference in achieving ultimate success,” she said. “Limbitless has both.”
It’s all about the end user for Limbitless.
“One of our primary goals, from the very beginning, has been to make sure that no child who needs an arm goes without because they can’t afford it,” Manero said. “That’s what drives us and we are working hard to get there.”
“It’s finding the right cause, that smart way to approach monumental goals — but most important, it’s finding people with heart who just won’t give up.”
Last month Limbitless announced its first clinical trials in collaboration with OHSU and its famed prosthetics expert Dr. Albert Chi. The estimated cost for the first 20 children to go through the clinical trial is $10,000 each, which includes the 3D printed arms, travel stipends, and four visits with occupational therapists during the yearlong process. Several philanthropists have helped with the initial group of children that will start the trial in fall 2018.
Making a big difference can be an overwhelming endeavor. But the right heart can turn dreams into reality.
“I know that sounds simplistic, but that’s really the core for any donor,” Smallwood said. “It’s finding the right cause, that smart way to approach monumental goals — but most important, it’s finding people with heart who just won’t give up.”
Smallwood said the reason she agreed to “go public” with her gift was the hope it would inspire other “regular people” to donate.
“Almost everyone I know has running water, a place to sleep, and even has a choice of food every day,” Smallwood said. “We are so fortunate. We have another blessing that most of the world does not have — we can make a difference. I think if given the opportunity everyone would like to make the world a better place through donations of money or talent or time. The point is, you have to jump in and do it. Don’t think you have enough to make a meaningful donation? Let me share something I heard years ago, ‘If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in a bed with a mosquito.’”