Breakthroughs in prosthetic hands

CENTER CITY; July 27, 2011

The same technology that's making our phones & computers do more in less space is helping people who depend on prosthetics.

Advanced Arm Dynamics in Center City put the 2 new bionic hands in action with their new users, retired Staff Sgt. Ramon Padilla and Colby Helfrich.

Sergeant Padilla received the full hand, whil Helfrich has a new set of bionic fingers. Each one has movements and grips much more like the human hand. The limbs are activated by contracting muscles in the prosthetic socket, which in turn, activates the tiny motors in the limb.

Sergeant Ramon Padilla received the full hand.

He lost his own when he was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan in 2007. He was part of the same unit profiled in the movie, "Restrepo." It profiled life with the 2nd platoon Company B in the Korengal Valley of northeastern Afghanistan, at that time considered "the most dangerous place on earth."

Colby Helfrich, a college student, has the new fingers, which replace the four he lost in a train accident two years ago.

After his accident, he received a prosthetic hand which was cosmetic, and didn't move, like his new one.

Both say the sophisticated new prosthetics will definitely improve life.

Sgt. Padilla says the iron grip of his older, traditional prosthetic hand will have some uses, but the new hand brings back the human "touch."

"When I go out and play with my kids, or walk around the neighborhood, or go to the movies with my wife, I'll use this hand, because it's more lifelike and has more of the movement of your good hand," he told Action News.

"What I like about this one is it's more durable," he says. "And hopefully, we'll get to the I Robot hand from Will Smith's movie," he says with a smile.

Colby looks foward to an easier time in everyday life.

"Certain daily activities will be easier that I've had to struggle with the last while back, like picking up things, getting in & out of a car," he says.

Only two weeks into having his new fingers, Helfrich says he's still learning, but says, "It's easy to move, you don't have to contract that had to get the movement you want."

Ryan Spill at Advanced Arm Dynamics say making prosthetic fingers has been hard, because the computer processors weren't small enough to simulate human fingers.

Padilla now works with other amputee war vets, including those who have come through Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He encourages them to get prosthetic limbs, and to use them. He says they save their remaining limbs from overuse injuries.

He spends a lot of time with the vet's amputee golf program, as a player, a mentor, and developing golfing aids for other vets.

Helfrich's experience has inspired him to become a physical therapist.

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