From claw-like device to fully functional digits
John German no longer needs a helping hand.
German, 40, lost his left hand 20 years ago. He was fitted with a bionic hand last May.
"It's making a difference every day. I can hold a child's hand now without crushing it," said the father of two from Altoona, Penn., who was in Vancouver yesterday at a conference of the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics.
Each finger is powered by an individual motor. The thumb also rotates, giving greater dexterity.
Two electrodes attached to the patient's skin pick up muscle signals that control the hand.
"You think and then you flex, and then the hand picks up on it," said German, whose bionic hand is encased in a flesh-coloured silicone cover that looks much like skin, down to the nails and knuckles.
German says he can now put a key into a door lock, peel a banana, use a can opener, or pick up a Blackberry from a table.
"The world is wide open. I've only seen some of the capabilities," said German, who found out at 20 that he had a neurological condition that affected his arms when a scratch on his hand, made by a puppy, didn't heal and became gangrenous.
He underwent 17 surgeries but doctors were unable to save his left arm, which was amputated at the mid-forearm.
Before the bionic hand, German had a rigid prosthetic that used a thumb and two fingers to produce a simple claw-like grip. "I might be able to grab something but I'd have to bend at my knees, shoulders and elbow to grab it."
Instead of a claw, he now has full use of all digits.
The i-LIMB is manufactured by Edinburgh-based Touch Bionics and runs on batteries that need to be charged overnight. It will be available in Canada this week.
It has been fitted on a Briton and 13 Americans so far.
It comes in only one size but there are plans to produce four sizes to suit female and male hands.
© The Vancouver Province 2007