Monday, July 3, 2017

Innovation Provides Independence for Vietnam Veteran Amputee

For Two Veterans, a Freedom Restored for Independence Day
New York Times
Side Street
By DAVID GONZALEZ
JULY 2, 2017

“This is the first device that intuitively moves multiple joints at one time. With other technology, you had to use the hand, then stop. Use the wrist, then stop. It wasn’t fluid.” Dr. Leif Nelson
Fred Downs, who received a state-of-the-art prosthetic arm on Friday. “With a prosthetic limb, your independence and dignity are returned to you,” he said. “This is freedom, let me tell you.” Credit David Gonzalez/The New York Times
This Fourth of July weekend, Fred Downs and Artie McAuley will treasure independence in ways most of us take for granted, like grabbing a soda from a table or reaching into a pocket to answer a cellphone. And though football season has yet to start, for the first time in nearly a half-century Mr. McAuley will be able to raise both arms to celebrate a touchdown.

These simple, daily movements represent to them freedom in an intensely personal way: Both are Army veterans who lost part or all of an arm while in the service. Mr. Downs, a platoon leader in Vietnam, lost his left arm just above the elbow when he stepped on a land mine during a firefight in 1968. Mr. McAuley was assigned to an ordnance unit in upstate New York when a car accident cost him his left arm and part of the shoulder in 1969.

The men celebrated the start of the Independence Day weekend by becoming the first two recipients, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, of astate-of-the-art robotic arm that uses computers, sensors and motors to give back to them the simple, but essential, functions they had lost in their youth. The arm — known as Life Under Kinetic Evolution or LUKE — is the result of an eight-year research project by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (known as Darpa) and private companies. Unlike current prosthetics available for upper limb amputees, the LUKE arm allows for smooth and simultaneous movement using motors at the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand to flex and turn or lift and grip.
Dr. Leif Nelson, who worked on the development of the LUKE arm, said that the number of people who had lost arms relative to those who had lost legs was too small to spur private research and development. That’s when Darpa, along with the Department of Veterans Affairs, funded studies to develop the latest prosthesis. They in turn were able to enlist private companies, working with Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway.
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