Tuesday, July 31, 2007

i-LIMB Again!

Iraq War amputee's bionic hand moves all five fingers
by Tali Yahalom, USA TODAY

Iraq war veteran Sgt. Juan Arredondo, left, one of the first recipients of a bionic hand with independently moving fingers called the i-Limb, shakes a reporter's hand during an interview in New York.

NEW YORK — Iraq War veteran Juan Arredondo sports a military-colored bracelet on his right hand inscribed with the word "courage." On his left, more shades of green and khaki coat an artificial arm, with a motorized hand at the end.

Arredondo, 27, is one of the first to use the groundbreaking i-Limb, a bionic hand with independently moving fingers.

"My son tells me … I'm half robot, half man," the retired U.S. Army sergeant said Monday at a news event to showcase the device, which he likened to those seen in Star Wars and Terminator.

Five individual motors power the fingers, which Arredondo can position for a desired task, from lifting a 45-pound weight to whitewater rafting.

The i-Limb, which was in development at Touch Bionics in Edinburgh, Scotland, for five years, is marketed by Bethesda, Md.-based Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics and costs $60,000 to $150,000, depending on the length of the amputation. The U.S. Department of Defense is paying for Arredondo's $65,000 prosthesis...

It contains a tiny computer chip that translates electrical signals made by the arm's nerves into physical movement.

The hand generates a low-pitched sound as it moves and can twist off the arm as smoothly as a lid coming off a jar. The technological nooks and crannies are visible under a clear silicone glove, which enhances the hand's tactile ability. Arredondo can control how tightly he grips an object, and he doesn't tire if it's heavy.

"This is amazing stuff," he says.

Arredondo was on patrol in Iraq on Feb. 28, 2005, when an explosive device blasted through the left side of his vehicle. As he jumped from the driver's seat, he noticed that his left hand was still clutching the steering wheel. He grabbed it before collapsing.

He was sure he would die, and he relayed last words for his wife and two children. But the eight-year Army veteran pulled through and wound up at San Antonio's Brooke Army Medical Center, where he was stabilized enough to have his amputated arm closed up and readied for a prosthesis. He went through two artificial arms until finally receiving the i-Limb.

The i-Limb, now available to the U.S. public, outshines its artificial predecessors by a long shot, says Hanger vice president Troy Farnsworth. It still does not have sensory or waterproof functions, but it empowers the user to use all five fingers. Other bionic hands allow for the use of only the thumb, index and middle fingers. "It works so much like a normal hand that it really bridges the gap" between prosthetic and real hands, he says.

Arredondo now works for the Wounded Warrior Project, a Florida organization that spreads awareness about wounded veterans.

He lives in San Antonio with his wife, Jessica, and their children, Rose, 10, and Diego, 4. The kids get a kick out of their father's prosthetic, particularly when he uses it to get rid of snakes in the backyard.

"He's so excited to be able to use it" and is "very proud to be part of testing it," Jessica says.

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