A Helping Hand From Technology & The School of Medicine
by Tracy Ross
Brian Floyd likes to work with his hands and so do his doctors at the School of Medicine. Floyd, a 46-year-old school educator for children with special needs, lost his lower left arm to cancer nearly five years ago. He has recently been fitted with the latest in robotic prosthetics in the School’s Orthotics/Prosthetics (OP) Lab in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine.
In 2004, Floyd had an appointment with Ron Williams, MD, a faculty specialist at the CTRC Floyd was referred to after several general physicians could not figure out why he was still having unmanageable pain from a fractured wrist. Williams, a Professor and Orthopaedic Oncologist, ordered a biopsy, and the test results came back positive. Floyd was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and immediately began his treatment. After receiving just three rounds of chemo, doctors realized that his body was rejecting the treatments. They were able to shrink the tumor significantly, but the surrounding bone and tissue were still cancerous. Floyd had to have his lower left arm amputated below the elbow. Dr. Williams performed the surgery at University Hospital in the fall of that year.
After about three years, Floyd wore out his first myoelectric prosthesis which used a harness to secure it to his body. He called Darm and asked if there was anything that was more versatile and offered more capabilities. The entire team at the Lab understands that there are no two patients alike just like there are no two prostheses alike. The practitioners and technicians are attentive in meeting each patient’s unique needs.
The I-LIMB was commercially available in 2007 and is currently the most advanced prosthetic hand on the market. Floyd was the first to be fitted for the I-LIMB at the clinic. The team was excited to use this new technology with their patient.
“The technology to me is amazing, and it is only going to get better. It makes me feel complete, like it is a real part of me,” Floyd says.
The I-LIMB is the first advanced prosthetic hand to have each individual finger powered by its own motor, facilitating multiple advanced grip patterns akin to that of a human hand. Not only does it mimic the appearance of a human hand, but it also offers various capabilities in holding objects including a “power grip”, “pencil grip” and a “lateral grip”. These unique grips and built-in sensors allow the user to coordinate strength with accuracy, enabling the hand to hold an egg or Styrofoam cup without accidently crushing it. The motor movements of a robotic arm are achieved entirely through the brain’s electric signals to arm muscles much like natural hand movement.
The complex control system of this device works by utilizing electrodes placed on the skin of the remaining portion of the patient’s limb. The electrodes pick up the signals of the residual nerves and muscles which still function in the patient’s forearm. When the patient moves the muscles that would translate to an extension of the hand, the electrodes will pick up on those electrical signals and translate them into individual finger movement in the I-LIMB. For new patients like Floyd, mastering the robotic hand takes practice and repetition.
Music has always been a part of Floyd’s life. He turns to music to alleviate stress or change his mood. And with all of the challenges he has faced, music has been there to get him through some very hard times.
“Rather than sitting back and watching my teenage sons, Steven and Kevin, rock out on the guitar, I turn to my drumsticks and join in,” Floyd says. “My passion for music won’t allow me to quit, but I will do anything to play my guitar again.”
He is currently seeking the help of a physical therapist who specializes in I-Limb therapy to become more familiar with his new hand. One of his dreams is to play the guitar again. And he does not doubt that with his motivation, he will learn how to operate his new hand, and one day grasp his pick to play guitar again.