College Students Make New Hands for Boy Badly Burned in Crash That Killed His Dad

The bionic hands were built by engineering students at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

For a 10-year-old boy, Julian Reynoso has suffered great loss: His father, his 7-year-old sister, his 6-month-old brother and nine of his fingers. 

On an outing in Los Angeles with his family in April, a suspected drunken driver ran a red light and slammed into the Reynoso's minivan, propelling it 25 feet before it burst into flames. Juan Reynoso, 34, was killed. As were Emma and baby Sebastian, who was still nursing.

Julian was pulled from the fiery wreckage along with his mother, Elizabeth. He was burned over much of his body. His ravaged hands were reduced to nubs. His mother suffered a perforated bowel, severe bruising and a collapsed lung.

The boy's face was badly damaged and his hair was gone.  

It has been a tortured recovery for both. But Julian was given a gift this weekend that will allow him to again enjoy some of the things a boy likes to do — building Lego houses, for example, and throwing a baseball. He also will be able to do simple things that are part of everyday life — like opening a door.

A group of engineering students at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, created bionic hands for Julian, two high-tech prosthetics made with respect, diligence a mighty dose of patience.

Team leader Ryan Kissinger and his fellow students went without sleep Friday and worked right up to the wire getting Julian's hands ready before a Saturday night dinner celebrating the boy's new digits.

"Julian is really our source of power and our source of energy throughout this project," Kissinger, 22, told the group. "He's really proved something important to us, the power to prevail in spite of tragedy."

Their effort was part of the college's Quality of Life Plus club, which takes on projects each year designed to provide an engineering remedy to a physical loss. Kissinger picked a team of eight students out of 70 applicants. Using 3D computer imaging and a series of molds, the students built Julian's hands.

The left is powered by minute motors. The right, because Julian has less damage there, is a more simple device.

Because Julian is still growing, the molds had to be reconfigured during the construction process. And because Julian lives four hours from the central California campus, there were some fits and starts caused by not being able to check in daily with the boy.

Their first meeting was a complete bust, Kissinger told After driving down to meet with Julian, the students realized none of the equipment they brought worked right. So they went back to the lab and the drawing board.

Their inspiration went unchecked, despite their setbacks, largely because of the Julian's hearty spirit and resolve.

He also has a wicked funny bone.

"He's a very charismatic kid," Kissinger said. "He's got a really good personality and a really good sense of humor."

When people stare, or ask what happened to him, Julian shoots back that he lost a big battle playing Fortnite. If the questioner is an adult, he sometimes has to explain that Fortnite is a video game. 

Even before his bionic hands were being constructed, Julian had managed to move a pencil and to play video games with his injured hands, Kissinger said. 

Self-pity isn't on the child's playlist.

And his mother, though she still grieves and now finds herself a single mother with a single child, pushes onward, Kissinger said.

"I'm incredibly amazed by her," said Kissinger, who graduates this year. "She was incredibly grateful" for the team's work, he said.

The price tag for the 3D-printed prosthetics was only $8,000 — money the team was able to raise through a GoFundMe account and a private sponsor. 

There is no price on the legacy of Julian's new hands.

Kissinger sees his team's effort as a metaphor: that compassion can triumph over severe loss.

And, "how people are innately good, how there's goodness within us and we like to share that with our community. I think that's what it truly stands for," he said.