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10-year-old violinist with prosthetic arm gets help from BYU engineer

Adia Cardona, a 10-year-old who has a prosthetic arm, poses for a portrait with her violin. A student engineer at Brigham Young University helped her pursue her musical dreams by creating a device that prevents her bow from sliding down the violin.

Adia Cardona, a 10-year-old who has a prosthetic arm, poses for a portrait with her violin. A student engineer at Brigham Young University helped her pursue her musical dreams by creating a device that prevents her bow from sliding down the violin. (Ryan Campbell, BYU)


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PROVO — With just one hand, a 10-year-old Provo girl with the music bug refuses to be held back.

"I love the violin because it's a part of me, it's relaxing. I just get the violin or the piano and I play one of my favorite songs," Adia Cardona says.

Adia, who was born with one arm, received a prosthetic arm from Shriners Hospital for Children made specifically for playing the violin a couple years ago. It connects to her bow and allows her the movement that would be performed by the elbow and wrist. But there was a problem — she couldn't apply enough pressure to control her bow and keep it from sliding down the strings.

Several weeks into taking lessons from Madilyn Olsen with Americorps and United Way, Adia approached her teacher with the sketch of a device that she thought might help.

"She is a girl full of determination and love for life, and she's eager to just experience everything that she can, and I think she always wanted to be able to play the violin," Olsen said. "She loves music — you can tell that she loves music so much — and she wasn't going to let this hold her back. And it's just who she is, to be able to go forward and take control of her life and of her situations, and not let anything stop her."

But the violin teacher didn't know how to make the sketch a reality, so she reached out to Brigham Young University's College of Engineering and a local nonprofit that creates prosthetic devices for help.

That's where student engineer Joshua Vanderpool, who volunteers with 2ft Prosthetics, came in.

After meeting with Olsen, Vanderpool went to one of Adia's violin lessons with prototypes in tow. He ultimately found a way to position chopsticks on the violin in a way that wouldn't interfere with her playing but would help her control the bow's sliding.

"He paid attention to details and really helped Adia feel that this was her project. ... She was very involved as well, and he made it her favorite color, pink," Olsen said.

Vanderpool bought supplies, went to BYU and used one of the university's 3D printers to create a device that would attach to Adia's violin. He then met with Olsen and adjusted the device so Adia would be able put it on the violin herself.

It worked.

"I think we were all so eager for this to be done and kind of anticipating it, so there were a little bit of nerves I think from all of us, but she was so excited about it, and it was a night-and-day difference of the sound of the song that she played. And you could just tell that there was relief because she could not just focus on learning the music, but focus on enjoying that moment with her violin instead of stressing about all those other factors," Olsen recalled.

Vanderpool said he became interested in making prosthetic devices because of the impact each one can have on a recipient's life.

While the device for Adia's violin is simple, "it made such a big difference in someone's life. And I think that sometimes we think that we have to do these huge things to make a difference in this world, but really, there are so many simple things that we can do every day to change the course of someone's life. And I think that's something that's so needed in the world right now," Olsen said.

In a video shared by BYU, Adia said that when she first started using the attachment, "I just thought, 'Wow, easy.'"

"Music makes me feel happy because it is a part of me," Adia said. "Thanks to Joshua, I can play easier and just keep playing what I like. Engineers are great and awesome because they can make people be happy."

Since then, Vanderpool has been able to see Adia play the violin using the device he made just for her.

"I think it's wonderful because she's the one with the determination here, and I was just giving her a tool so that she could achieve what she wanted to," he said. "So it was awesome to see her enjoy it, to smile, to see some of the frustration disappear."

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