New hand helps soldier grip life
Jun 21, 2009 (The Augusta Chronicle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Cpl. Josh McCart likes it when kids notice his right hand and ask about it.
"I tell them I am really Iron Man," he joked, waving around his lifelike i-LIMB Hand prosthesis in the Active Duty Rehabilitation Unit in the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center. Actually, more than the Marvel Comics hero, the bionic hand reminds him of the one Luke Skywalker received after having his cut off by Darth Vader in one of the Star Wars movies.
Cpl. McCart is one of a relatively small number in the U.S. to receive the i-LIMB Hand, a next-generation prosthesis. More than 600 have been distributed around the world, about two-thirds of those in the U.S., with many of them going to patients at military hospitals or the VA, said Karl Lindborg, the head of clinical advocacy for Touch Bionics in the U.S.
Unlike the conventional claw hand prosthesis that grips objects in a way similar to the tip on the thumb meeting the tip of the index and middle finger, the i-LIMB Hand's thumb can rotate, allowing for different grip configurations, Mr. Lindborg said. For instance, in the key grip, the thumb moves out to connect with the side of the index finger, allowing the user to hold such objects as a key or a CD. All four fingers are powered independently and can move independently, just like those on a real hand, so that the user can point the index finger. Cpl. McCart has tried it out for typing, which is more difficult to do with a standard prosthesis.
"I know it's pecking. but it does give me the extra hand to peck with," he said.
Cpl. McCart's right hand was injured in a roadside bomb blast in Iraq in February 2007, and he endured nine surgeries before finally deciding in October to have the hand removed.
"The way I saw it was like having a car that didn't work," he said. "You have it for sentimental reasons, but eventually you have to get rid of it and get a working one if you want to get around."
And actually, with new the prosthetic hand, he has gained more function.
"When I first met him, to tie his shoe, he had to put it on the table," holding the shoe down with an elbow while his left hand pulled on the laces before slipping it back on, said occupational therapist Sarah Rodriguez. Now, Cpl. McCart can bend down and grasp both laces.
"Little things like that are the big ones that you notice," he said. "It's the little things that make life easier, a little more bearable."
Like being able to cut up his own food, which Cpl. McCart can do now with his new hand.
"It was almost a slightly degrading feeling to have to ask people to do it for me," he said.
There might also be unintended benefits to having the more realistic-looking prosthesis. After the hand was removed, Cpl. McCart reported what is referred to as phantom limb pain, feeling twitching or tingling from a finger that was no longer there. That seems to have subsided with his prosthesis.
Research on whether prostheses help with that is mixed, with one study finding a benefit while another does not. It is not something the Scottish-based company has studied yet, but it is certainly intriguing, said Mr. Lindborg.
"There is something that is happening there that seems to be making a difference because it is more (like a real hand)," he said.
The i-LIMB Hand does not eliminate the need for conventional prostheses, Mr. Lindborg said. The hand is not intended for heavy-duty use, and it is not moisture-proof.
It is also more expensive than the conventional prostheses: where a conventional one might run $35,000-$40,000 to acquire and fit, an i-LIMB Hand can run $60,000 to $80,000, Mr. Lindborg said.
Seeing the difference in functionality is great, however, Ms. Rodriguez said.
"I'm just glad that we have resources here in the VA to allow someone to get the latest and greatest technology in the country," she said. "We're very fortunate to have that and work with it."
It also means Cpl. McCart might be able to look at his future a little differently. He is planning to take medical retirement at Fort Benning and return home to Phenix City, Ala., before heading back to school. While the i-LIMB Hand comes with a realistic-looking skin cover, he is planning to use the clear skin or the black covering and has no intention of hiding it.
"I'm not ashamed of it," he said. "I am rather proud of it. I came about it the hard way."
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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