You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

All he wanted for Christmas was hands. How the wish came true for a Tennessee 11-year-old

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 12/26/2019 Melissa Corbin, For The Leaf-Chronicle
UP NEXT
UP NEXT

Related Video: How an 11-Year-Old Boy Got New Hands for Christmas (Provided by The Leaf-Chronicle, Clarksville, Tenn.)

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – When Gavin Sumner, 11, wrote his Christmas wish list last year for Santa, there wasn't much on it. He had one very special request: new hands.

It took the power of community, perseverance and hope. And on Monday at the Montgomery County Mayor's Office, one Christmas later, Gavin got his wish. 

Not knowing the gathering was for him, Gavin received a gift box from Mayor Jim Durrett. Assuming it was just a toy, he was in shock when he opened the box to see a new pair of customized hands.

a man standing in a room: Gavin Sumner reacts when pulling one of the completed mechanical hands out of their box after being presented it by Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett at the Montgomery County Historic Courthouse in Clarksville, Tenn., on Monday, Dec. 23, 2019. © Henry Taylor/The Leaf-Chronicle Gavin Sumner reacts when pulling one of the completed mechanical hands out of their box after being presented it by Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett at the Montgomery County Historic Courthouse in Clarksville, Tenn., on Monday, Dec. 23, 2019.

"This is the best Christmas ever," Gavin said. 

Gavin was born without functioning hands. Simple things such as holding a cup with one hand or riding a bicycle were getting in his way.

“I always try to push myself to try and see if I can do it," Gavin said. "But I do take in the fact that there are some things I can’t do, and now I’m having to accept that.”

Monday, for the first time, he was able to pick up items with his new hands. 

"It feels amazing," Gavin said.

a group of people sitting at a table: Gavin Sumner grips a gavel in the seat where Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett would normally sit during county commission meetings. Gavin was given mechanical hands Dec. 23, which make gripping the gavel one-handed possible. © Henry Taylor/The Leaf-Chronicle Gavin Sumner grips a gavel in the seat where Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett would normally sit during county commission meetings. Gavin was given mechanical hands Dec. 23, which make gripping the gavel one-handed possible.

"This is a huge leap forward ... I want to go to school and be independent for the first time," Gavin said. His family cried as they gave him hugs and high fives. 

Putting the pieces together

Because of a vascular disruption that causes lack of blood flow to affected body parts, Gavin is missing his left foot, most of his hands and 40% of his tongue. The prenatal diagnosis of oromandibular-limb hypogenesis was grim, his mother, Kori Sumner, remembered.

“They told us that most of the time, when all four limbs are affected, they don’t make it,” Sumner said. 

She said her son “has never complained once and does everything pretty normally.”

When he sprang his special wish on her, it broke her heart. Sumner had no idea how to go about finding him such a gift. She did what any modern mom would do: She took to Facebook. In a matter of days, her post had been shared more than 100 times, resulting in a friend of a friend saying she knew someone who could help them grant Gavin’s wish. 

That someone was Anthony Economos of Bedstone Creative in Clarksville.

“The ability to solve this problem was truly years in the making,” said Economos, a graduate of Austin Peay State University.

Bedstone Creative is an IT company specializing in 3D printing and prototypes for businesses.

a group of people standing around a table: Gavin Sumner successfully releases the strap on one of his mechanical hands after having them fit for him at the Montgomery County Historic Courthouse in Clarksville, Tenn., on Dec. 23. © Henry Taylor/The Leaf-Chronicle Gavin Sumner successfully releases the strap on one of his mechanical hands after having them fit for him at the Montgomery County Historic Courthouse in Clarksville, Tenn., on Dec. 23.

“We want to show we can make new things," Economos says. "My belief is that on stuff like this, it’s that I care about creating meaningful work and giving back when I can.”

Unaware of anyone in the area designing such life-changing prototypes, the team decided to fund the entire project. 

How the hands will work

Gavin has palms and the use of his wrists, and that's how he will control the hands. 

“They look just like a hand. There are five independent controls to create tension. The motion of folding the palm causes the fingers to grip. It actuates the same way,” Economos says. Plastic is too slippery to create proper gripping power, so the team worked with a special silicone.

It's a solution that can be replicated long-term. Once the developers understand Gavin’s physiology, “printing a replacement for him as he grows is next to nothing,” Economos said. 

Gavin said he looks forward to the additional autonomy, especially in school, where he's in sixth grade. 

a group of people that are talking to each other: Tammy Graham, Gavin Sumner’s grandmother, embraces him after he picked up a water bottle at the Montgomery County Historic Courthouse in Clarksville, Tenn., on Dec. 23. © Henry Taylor/The Leaf-Chronicle Tammy Graham, Gavin Sumner’s grandmother, embraces him after he picked up a water bottle at the Montgomery County Historic Courthouse in Clarksville, Tenn., on Dec. 23.

“A lot of times in school, I can’t open chips, bottle caps and things like that. Sometimes I have to rely on the teacher or my friends," he said. "I do have a very supportive relationship with most of the people I know. Now, when I have hands, I’ll be able to do it on my own.”

Changing a young man's life

He said he realized long ago that he was different from the other kids.

“Back then, since I was so innocent, I just realized that I was different. But I came to the fact that God chose me for a purpose, and I’m going to live that purpose.” He’s still working on what exactly that purpose is, but he said, “I hope my purpose is to inspire other people.” 

Gavin wants to work in technology. “This is a little off-topic, but I am in the gaming world. I am considered a professional player. I’m respected and pretty good at the game. I just see that even if you have a disability, who’s going to stop you?”

Don’t ask for his gaming handle. He declined out of respect for his peers and personal privacy. 

He's dreamed of having hands. “It got a little bit weird. Instead of having robot hands, I just had general hands. Everything seemed normal. I went around and it was a whole new perspective that I’m probably going to experience. I went out to eat, and everything was easier. Stuff like that.

"It was a short dream, and I wished it were longer. I hope the dream was accurate because that was a really cool experience. Everything you guys have and stuff, it’s something I’ve only dreamt of having.”

Contributing: Alexis Clark

The Northeast warms ahead of rest of USA: 'Our winters now are not like our winters before'

This article originally appeared on Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle: All he wanted for Christmas was hands. How the wish came true for a Tennessee 11-year-old

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From USA TODAY

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon