HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- At the Collegiate School in Henrico County Austin Tyner is a stand out student. While the 15-year-old girl stands just five feet tall, she is much bigger in stature. The ninth grader has dedicated her young life to helping others. Austin knows first-hand what it’s like to be viewed differently. She was born without a fully-developed left hand, but the courageous teen approached her situation with a sense of humor.
"It is just a nubby type thing," Austin said about her hand. "It is kind of like the hunchback of Notre Dame. Like Quasimodo. You have to take everything with a pinch of salt."
Austin said for most of her life, she has had to endure stares from others and field questions about her condition. She said she was often embarrassed because there was nothing she could do about the way she was born.
Things changed for Austin last fall when she saw students from Tomahawk Creek Middle School in Chesterfield using hands printed by a 3D printer at a science fair. Austin and her father Ward Tyner, an electrician, would then print their own robot-type device. To Austin the bright blue, bold-colored, clunky claw represented a thing of beauty.
The custom fit hand is a conversation starter. No longer is Austin ashamed and hiding her defect in the pocket.
"It was so amazing to feel a hand open and close. Unlike anything I’ve ever felt before," she said. "When you hinge it, it closes. So you can make a fist or box or whatever."
Austin said her new plastic grip allows her to do the simple things in life like text or remove hair from her face. She said she wanted other children living with similar disabilities to experience the sheer joy of having two hands.
"I hope I can help people till I’m gone from the earth, honestly," Austin said. "There is no reason not to help other people you know?"
In a recent speech before the entire student body Austin issued a challenge. She challenged students and staff to form a club whose mission is to print 3D hands for the disabled. Austin's idea has found support on campus with a Makers Club gaining momentum at The Collegiate School. When the club is established, members will be able to make 3D printed hands for children with disabilities.
Friends said they drew inspiration from Austin.
"She is always happy. She always has a smile on her face. She never lets anything get her down," Collegiate senior Ymani Breedlove said.
Austin Tyner is a confident young woman who said if she met anyone in need, she would always be there to lend a helping hand.
Greg McQuade and CBS 6 News are featuring local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email email@example.com.