Armed with happiness

Alex-Pring-and-Robert-Downey-Jr
Alex Pring with Robert Downey Jr

Bionic arm makes a boy feel like a superhero.

He was born with a limb deficiency that left him without his right arm from just above the elbow. 

When he began attending school, classmates would tease him or innocently ask whether he was bitten by a shark or an alligator. 

Young Alex Pring took action. He became a superhero. As he discovered, you don’t have to be from the planet Krypton to become one. You just need the right gear. 

Alex was featured on Style’s September 2014 cover. The following year, the Groveland boy was 7 when he traveled to Atlanta with his family to meet Robert Downey Jr., the actor who plays billionaire inventor Tony Stark in the “Iron Man” movie series. When Alex walked into Robert’s hotel room, the actor presented him with a bionic arm made by University of Central Florida students who are part of the volunteer group Limbitless Solutions. 

The event came with much fanfare. Microsoft’s Collective Project, which celebrates students using technology to change the world, arranged for the meeting and videoed Robert and Alex interacting. 

Alex tried on his new 3-D printed, “Iron Man”-themed prosthetic arm. Then Robert put on the arm that he wore during the movie. They fist bumped. 

“It’s a marriage of robotic technologies,” Robert says during the video that went viral. “I love it.”

Alex was quite starstruck. 

“I told him we were going to Atlanta to meet an expert in bionic arms,” says his mother, Alyson Pring. “When we walked into a hotel room and he saw Robert Downey Jr., he didn’t know what to say. They began comparing their bionic arms. Robert then invited him to hang out on the set with him when he began filming over the summer.”

That was actually the second bionic arm that UCF students made for Alex. Both battery-operated arms feature three electrodes that sense movement in Alex’s bicep. He flexes the muscle to control movements of the hand and open and close all five fingers simultaneously, allowing him to grasp objects. 

Style interviewed Alex in 2014 after he received his first bionic arm. Moments after being fitted with that arm, he had something important to do. He excitedly approached his mother and, for the first time, gave her a two-arm hug. It was a defining moment. He could fully embrace a loved family member—and the future. 

And he could favorably compare himself to his favorite robot, Optimus Prime. 

“Because of my arm, I’m like a Transformer,” Alex said during the interview. 

The bionic arm opened up a whole new world for Alex. He could now give double high-fives, ride on a bicycle upright, catch a ball and climb trees. Most importantly, he gained confidence. 

Today, Alex, who turned 12 in October, is a sixth-grade student at Minneola Charter School. The boy is growing like a weed, standing 5 feet 3 inches tall and wearing size-30 pants. His bionic arm is coming in handy. He now plays a left-handed French horn in the school band and also rides all-terrain vehicles around his family’s property. He plans to participate on the school’s cross-country team. 

“He’s always happy and always smiling,” Alyson says. “He wants to have a good time.” 

These days, Alex no longer has to worry about classmates teasing him. In fact, they’re in awe of his “Iron Man” arm. 

It’s not flesh and blood, but it gives Alex real hope.

X