Robotic fingers fitted on amputee in national first
When Chris Jones' fingers were torn off by wire in a West Coast fishing accident, he faced a gruelling, two-hour ride back to shore and an abrupt end to a family legacy.
"They tried to surgically repair the damage but the fingers had spent too long without blood flow," Jones said.
The fourth generation fisherman, from Nelson, lost three fingers on his right hand and the tip of his pinky, plus the tips of his left hand.
Jones slipped on a partial robotic right-hand on Monday, which replaced the three fingers he'd lost, and minutes later was picking up coffee cups and writing his name.
Each digit is made up of a motor and two joints, then two electrodes, said Alison Goodwin, prosthetic manager at Touch Bionics, the Scotland based company which manufactures the robotic hand technology.
The electrodes pick up signals from specific muscles which activates the prosthesis to move.
Once the prototype glove is customised to Jones' hand, it will be sent back to Scotland to be manufactured and finished.
He'll be wearing the final product in August.
"I wanted a glove that could hold a knife so I could go back out on deck and cut fish, but this is better."
They're worth about $100,000, and have a 5-year warranty.
ACC has covered the cost for Jones, as it will allow him to re-enter the workforce.
But he won't be back on a boat, yet.
He hopes to re-enter work as a truck driver, until the robotics become more durable.
"This is the first device in prosthetics that's available for people who have lost multiple fingers," Goodwin said.
"There are a few leaps in technology needed to make the whole thing waterproof."
Jones is the first in New Zealand to be fitted with the partial prosthesis, Sean Gray, New Zealand Artificial Limb Service chief executive, said.
A second will be fitted in Hamilton on Wednesday, and others will come about as they're assessed by ACC.
Several New Zealanders already wear Touch Bionics' full robot hand.
One of them is Dunedin man Gavin Wilson, who lost his right hand in a fabric shredder four years ago.
First he got a hook, but that had its limitations.
"Wine and cheese night just became wine night," Wilson said.
He's worn the robot hand for 18 months, and said it "dramatically changed his life".
Gray has pushed for Kiwi amputees to have access to the changing technology.
"Our vision is for people to have independent and productive lives."