Health

The invention that ends summers without bathrooms

Crack, crack, crack, crack and crack. In Spain, in a medium-sized hospital, around five fractures are treated a day, according to several consulted orthopedists. Of these, at least two require a cast. Multiply that figure by all the health centers in the country and you will reach an overwhelming number: hundreds of patients in a cast a day, with an immobilized, rigid limb that sometimes itches and causes discomfort . A humble problem, but at the same time gigantic.

The industrial engineer fell into this Raquel Serrano Lledó, from 31 years and a native of Alhaurín de la Torre (Málaga), co-founder of Fiixit, a company that produces custom 3D printed splints, submersible, weighing ten times less than plaster and with a reticular shape that allows the skin to breathe. This translates into a simpler life for these patients, mostly children, who can easily dive into the sea and the pool, scratch if they please, wash comfortably and move more freely. designs are customizable and have a more modern aesthetic than traditional orthopedics, which give the wearer a somewhat robotic appearance. For example, the little ones carry engravings of the movies The Paw Patrol or Batman in his arms. “It is more human. They feel less different and participate in the design ”, says the engineer.

Malagueña porque su padre quiso que naciera en esa ciudad, Serrano Lledó, que en la imagen porta una máscara protectora facial, cofundó Fiixit junto al técnico de ortésica y protésica Antonio Padilla en 2017. Uno de sus primeros retos fue obtener la licencia de la Agencia Española de Medicamentos y Productos Sanitarios, cuya consecución dio un espaldarazo a su idea. Hoy venden a más de 500 pacientes al año. “Que alguien levante el teléfono tras tirarnos horas delante del ordenador para felicitarnos por un diseño hace que no quepamos por la puerta”, se enorgullece.
Malagueña because her father wanted her to be born in that city, Serrano Lledó, who in the image wears a facial protective mask, co-founded Fiixit together with the orthotic and prosthetic technician Antonio Padilla in 2017. One of his first challenges was to obtain a license from the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products, the achievement of which gave a boost to his idea. Today they sell more than 500 patients per year. “Someone picking up the phone after spending hours in front of the computer to congratulate us on a design makes us not fit through the door,” he is proud.

The company is made up of five colleagues and friends who, as Serrano Lledó says , have shaken the market for orthoses – which she summarizes as the fasteners that wrap a limb and supports that help stabilization – starting from an existing product. “We have revolutionized the sector, but we have not invented anything. Splints were already made, but in a more traditional way, with other materials and other aesthetics, and it took a long time ”, he says. In their career they have won awards for entrepreneurship such as the M of Malaga or the medal for Civil Merit in 2019. From their workshop they have attended to the requests of thousands of patients and designed hundreds of pieces per year distributed to more than 50 orthopedics from all over the country. The essence of its success stems from the ability to detect a small daily problem, which affects thousands of citizens, and solve it with technology and ingenuity in a sector as tight and traditional as orthopedics. They have even reached Silicon Valley, where the engineer presented her project and learned about other business models. “I was amazed because, as soon as we arrived, they already wanted to buy us and for us to go to the United States,” he laughs. “But it never crossed our minds to sell the company, getting me out of Malaga costs a lot.”

Higinio, un niño de un año con problemas de movilidad, se baña en una piscina sentado en un asiento postural de Fiixit.
Higinio, a one-year-old boy with mobility problems, bathes in a pool sitting on a posture seat in Fiixit.
Las piezas llegan al paciente entre un día o dos desde que se solicitan. Las ortopedias escanean la extremidad lesionada y envían las imágenes a Fiixit, donde realizan el diseño de la pieza y la imprimen en 3D.
The Parts arrive to the patient within a day or two from order. Orthopedics scan the injured limb and send the images to Fiixit, where they design the part and print it in 3D.

The splints, made with PLA, a biodegradable and harmless derivative Of crops such as corn, and coated with EVA, a type of rubber common in orthopedics, they are generally used for common fractures in the legs, arms, hands or fingers. But they are also used in other cases, such as immobilization of a limb after a delicate operation or as a complement to the rehabilitation of an injury that affects mobility. Serrano Lledó recalls the story of a motorcyclist who fell with 18 years and the nightstand shattered his arm. Some time later, when his health had improved, the boy wanted to ride a bike, one of his passions, but he needed a splint that would facilitate the support of his insensitive hand on the handlebars. The applications of Fiixit’s design go beyond trauma: they have conceived tailor-made seats for children with nervous system involvement or youngsters with achondroplasia -a disease that causes short limbs-, a solution so that they keep the trunk stable and can watch TV, sit on the beach or be upright without difficulties. “These are the cases that most excite us and we like them,” says the engineer, and details how they made a millimeter piece for a woman whose hand would contract if she did not have a palmar support.

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The boy who scratched himself with a pen

At first, Serrano Lledó studied Forestry Engineering in Madrid. He liked nature and the countryside. “But I was wrong: Geology … What am I doing here studying the stones?”, She remembers, amused. At that time he came across several clues that heralded that his thing was to imagine objects. One was the jeweler who modeled for a computer design class. It had so many little drawers and nooks that it looked like a Swiss army knife. “The teacher hallucinated,” he says. Another, when they asked the students the first thing they would say about a door. “My friends said they would look to see if it was made of wood or metal. I, if it was Baroque, what architectural elements did it have… ”, he narrates with permanent good humor.

Then he called his family and decided to change his career. He returned to Malaga and started Industrial Design. The matter enchanted him from the first moment. “My notes and sketches circulated around the library. I had a domain with my name that my father had given me. And I started uploading them in an orderly way to the web. I just wanted to claim my authorship! ”He exclaims. The page became very popular in the faculty and, thanks to this small project, he achieved an internship in which he came into contact with the design of prototypes. “The computer supports everything, but you have to do it in reality to see if it is useful and works,” he explains. His first order was a chair for children with motor difficulties between the ages of three and five. “At first I felt pressure, but later I realized that it was my thing,” he says.

La jugadora de balonmano Paula García celebra el título de la EHF European League. Lo conquistó tras recuperarse de una lesión en la mano en la que usó una férula de Fiixit.
Handball player Paula García celebrates the EHF European League title. He conquered it after recovering from a hand injury in which he used a Fiixit splint.

He then bought his first 3D printer and started making bangles and bracelets. One night, while dining with her boyfriend, at the next table a boy was trying to scratch under the cast with a knife. “I thought: ‘What if instead of bracelets I start making splints?” He recalls. Then he called his cousin, who worked in the world of orthopedics: “He told me to go ahead, that this was the future of orthopedics, but that ‘it is complicated’, that ‘here are foreign multinationals in it’, that ‘how we’re going to get in… ”, he smiles again. Seven years ago. Now they plan to make the leap abroad and, in the future, start the manufacture of prostheses.

Álvaro and a pioneering exoskeleton

The technology applied to the design also transformed the life of Álvaro, a boy suffering from spinal muscular atrophy. In his short life he has never been able to stand up and walk. But their situation changed radically thanks to the world’s first child exoskeleton, the work of engineer Elena García Armada (Santander, 1971), one of the most recognized and disruptive Spanish scientists. “I did my research and realized that there was a global need, but there was nothing in the market and no plans to address that sector,” he says. A pilot version of this technological device, called Atlas 2030, got Álvaro walk and move autonomously. Now, after eight years of research and effort, the exoskeleton has been approved by the European Medicines and Medical Devices Agency, which allows this invention to be marketed with all the guarantees.

His story is part of I Think, Then I Act, the social platform of Yoigo who gives a voice to people who are changing the world for the better and who has collaborated in the dissemination of their work. If you want to listen to it, click on the following podcast.

The end of summers locked up

The invention may seem modest but, without going any further, saves a summer or even a wedding. Serrano Lledó and his partners have been called by families to thank them for the splint that allows their son to bathe and, therefore, that they have been able to travel without altering or canceling their long-awaited vacation. “Parents of a child who did not absorb calcium They said that we had finally given them a summer gift, ”he says. Some men have also thanked them for being able to marry with a splint on the hand or leg that, thanks to its size -one can put a pants or a jacket over it- and weight -does not exceed the 200 grams-, it was not noticeable under the suit. The fracture to be protected came from the bachelor party.

Férulas diseñadas en Fiixit. Para los últimos modelos han desarrollado un cierre que absorbe la información muscular del paciente, de manera que, si pierde masa muscular, la férula se ciñe más y no queda holgada, algo que evita tener que hacer una nueva pieza.
Splints designed in Fiixit. For the latest models, they have developed a closure that absorbs the patient’s muscle information, so that, if you lose muscle mass, the splint becomes tighter and does not remain loose, something that avoids having to make a new piece.

During the pandemic, Serrano Lledó says, they treated many injuries to the little finger, the so-called boxer’s fracture. “People were angry and in a punch on the table, for example, you can break a finger,” he explains. They got down to work. The more I work the better. They sold dozens. “As soon as they tell us that we have solved a large ballot for them, we are delighted. It is a physical relief, but also a mental one. And that’s what we’re here for ”, he closes.

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CREDITS

    Script and writing: Jaime Ripa

  • Editorial coordination: Francis Pachá
  • Design and development: Belén Daza and Belén Polo
  • Photography: García-Santos
  • Design coordination: Adolfo Domenech

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