After losing his hand in a workplace accident, a NAIT instructor has become the first person in Alberta to get a bionic hand replacement completely paid for by the Workers Compensation Board.
Brett Fleming, an Electrical instructor at NAIT was working for a power company in 2000 when an electrical accident took his hand.
“I was tied up on a transformer and then was knocked unconscious, when I woke I had to decline down and go to the hospital,” said Fleming. “I was in the hospital for 30 days.”
Fleming said he had about 40 doctors appointments in the first month alone, only missing two. It took about six months for the swelling to go down, so he was not able to get a prosthetic arm right away.
Fleming was originally fitted with a power cable arm, which he was not satisfied with. He wore it for a couple of years before eventually stopping to use it due to it being uncomfortable and difficult to operate.
He went to the Butterdome’s Rick Hanson Centre for a rehabilitation program in an attempt to regain his strength with the help of a personal trainer.
But, after years of rehabilitation, Brett decided it was time to get a bionic prosthetic hand. After talking to many people, he found his way to Synergy Prosthetics in February 2017. With the fabrication of the build, the tech and the five-year extended warranty, the cost of his new hand was just over $82,500 US; which WCB paid in full.
The hand is custom-fit to Fleming’s arm, sort of like a suction cup. He wears a strong rubber-type glove over it that matches his skin tone. It can be worn comfortably for about 14-16 hours a day, and he takes it off to charge it at night.
The bionic hand works by using the muscles in his arm. When he bends his wrist up, the top muscle in his arm fires downwards, which opens the prosthetic hand. When he bends his wrist down, the hand closes.
The hand is also programmed with an iPad app. Fleming can program 36 different hand positions (18 at a time). The hand connects to the iPad via Bluetooth. The app features a graph of different poses the hand can perform, one example being a “thumbs-up.” Once pressed, the hand will move with a metallic whirl noise to the thumbs-up pose automatically. There is also a training mode with games to play like a balancing game to practice using certain parts of the hand.
With all the tasks Brett Fleming’s new $82,000 hand allows him to do, his bionic hand’s ability to give the middle finger is what gives his students the greatest laugh.