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Bionic hand gets big thumbs-up: Users to demo limb’s five-finger functionality at July 16 educational event at Methodist O&P in Flowood

Published on July 8, 2014
Susan Christensen

Roy Eavenson practices the pinch capabilities of his new i-limb prosthetic hand during therapy at Methodist Outpatient Rehabilitation in Flowood. Eavenson was custom-fit with the futuristic device at Methodist Orthotics & Prosthetics in Flowood.

The i-limb’s delicate grasp makes it possible for Roy Eavenson to even drink water out of a thin paper cup. Mealtimes are easier, too, now that he can use both hands to cut his food.

The i-limb ultra revolution prosthetic hand features five fully functional fingers and 24 pre-programmed grips or positions. Plus, users can add three custom gestures.

In his younger years, Roy Eavenson survived four bruising fights a night as a ham-fisted boxer known as The Ox.

In his rodeo days, he endured cracked ribs, a busted head and a broken right leg before he gave up bull riding.

But losing his left hand in an industrial accident—now, that put the tough guy in a tailspin.

“I was depressed for a long time,” said the Covington County resident. “There were so many things I couldn’t do.”

Today, it’s a different story, thanks to the amazing capabilities of his i-limb ultra revolution prosthetic hand. Now, Eavenson can tie his shoes, button his pants and cut his own steak—activities once out of reach for the former construction worker.

Eavenson was custom-fit with the futuristic hand at Methodist Orthotics & Prosthetics in Flowood, where he’ll help showcase the i-limb’s features at a July 16 educational event.

Chris Wallace, director of Methodist O&P, a division of Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson, said the event is an opportunity for potential users to explore the latest advances in prosthetic hands and ask questions of users like Eavenson.

“Too many people wear outdated equipment because they’re not aware of what’s available,” Wallace said. “Since many insurers offer reimbursement for new prostheses every two to five years, we like to keep patients and their doctors up to date on the newest options.”

Disguised by a cover that matches the wrinkled knuckles, manly fingernails and freckled skin on his right hand, Eavenson’s prosthesis doesn’t look particularly techy.

But underneath the cosmetics are robotic breakthroughs that provide “unparalleled dexterity,” says Scotland-based manufacturer Touch Bionics. Instead of offering only the thumb and two-finger pinch of most prosthetic hands, the ultra revolution lets Eavenson move all five fingers.

“It’s leaps and bound over others he has had,” said Taylor Hankins, Eavenson’s prosthetist at Methodist O&P. “The great thing is it has a powered opposable thumb so you don’t have to physically move the thumb with your other hand. It’s faster and stronger, too.”

Using Bluetooth enabled software on an iPod or smart phone app, Eavenson can easily access 24 pre-programmed positions or grips. There’s one to facilitate typing and others for hauling heavy bags, clutching utensils or carefully cradling a paper cup.

The i-limb is a myoelectric hand, meaning it’s activated by electrical signals generated by muscle movements in the forearm—a process Eavenson had long since mastered with previous prostheses.

But given that he doesn’t even own a computer, the 73-year-old needed some help to get the hang of the sophisticated electronics in his new hand.

At Methodist Rehab, he’s working with Hankins and occupational therapist Suzanne Colbert—who have been specially trained on the device. He even accompanied the two to a Touch Bionics facility in Ohio.

“He was a barrel of laughs at the airport,” Colbert said. “It took 40 minutes to get him through the security checkpoint because he has metal in him from head to toe. But he was real patient and easygoing.”

Eavenson admits he was quite the opposite when he first lost his hand. “I was real blue,” he said.

The then 60-year-old had been working at a hardboard plant when his left arm got caught in a 20-ton press where wood fibers are steam-cooked and pressure-molded. “I had 360 degrees of heat on my arm for seven minutes, but I never did pass out,” he said.'

Doctors tried for nine weeks to save Eavenson’s thumb and forefinger, but gangrene forced a mid-forearm amputation. Overnight, the guy who once built a 600-foot tower on the edge of a 1,100-foot cliff went from fearless to fragile.

But he says he got over his self-pity after seeing some patients facing worse predicaments.

“If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go walk through the VA,” Eavenson said. “If you don’t leave there with a different attitude, there’s something wrong with you.”

In the years since, Eavenson has found there is not much on his 30-acre spread that he can’t do—from welding and fence mending to beekeeping and tree chopping. “It has gotten me out of dish washing,” he jokes.

Eavenson is currently learning all his new hand can accomplish and practicing those skills during therapy with Colbert. “We do a lot of repetition, using fine motor control and dexterity to do activities of daily living like cutting a steak,” she said.

Hankins plans to put the functions Eavenson uses most often on a shortcut app. There’s also the option to add up to three custom gestures, and the most appropriate might be a big thumbs-up.

Eavenson likes that the hand has helped him rediscover abilities he once took for granted. “When I first got this cotton-picking thing I was able to pick up quarters and nickels off the table,” he said.

But his favorite capability comes courtesy of the delicate thumb-to-forefinger pinch that makes it possible to get dressed independently.  “A one-armed fellow has a hard time buttoning his Levis, particularly when they’re kind of small,” he said.

Prosthetic patients, family members and health care professionals are invited to attend an educational meeting on i-limb technology from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 16 at Methodist Orthotics & Prosthetics, One Layfair Drive, Suite 300 in Flowood. I-limb users and certified prosthetists will be on hand to answer questions.  To RSVP, call 601-936-8899 or send an email to