Location: Central City, Iowa
Occupation: Administrative Assistant
Clinic: Touch Life Center, Ohio
Product: i-limb digits
On March 13, 2009, Cabrina Ball underwent corrective surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, a repetitive strain condition affecting the hand and wrist. After the surgery, Cabrina subsequently contracted necrotizing fasciitis, an infection more commonly known as flesh-eating disease, with tragic consequences.
A two and a half week spell in hospital ensued, as doctors battled to save her hand, ultimately resulting in the amputation of all four fingers from her left hand. Her thumb was saved, but with reduced overall function.
"Right away, I started to think about how I was going to be able to return to normal life - as a secretary, I use both hands a lot," recalls Cabrina. "And of course there were the daily life challenges outside of work - not being able to put clothes on by myself, not being able to pick up my new grandchild, cooking, baking and so on."
Her family rallied round her during her time in hospital and while recuperating at home afterwards, her husband taking three weeks off work and her mother helping out at home.
"I'm very independent and don't believe in feeling sorry for yourself, but I needed the help," says Cabrina.
While still healing, she scoured the internet for prosthetic solutions that might provide her with a way back to some level of function.
"It wasn't a happy experience - I couldn't find anything out there that looked like it would do the trick," she says.
Cabrina was then informed about a new body-powered prosthetic finger that might be able to help her. The M-finger solution was a mechanical device that claimed to provide a return to function for people with missing fingers.
"I told them I didn't care about aesthetics - I just wanted to get my independence back," says Cabrina. "Unfortunately, the M-Fingers didn't really work out for me."
The M-Fingers required Cabrina to flex her wrist in order to cause them to close around an object, and this mechanical motion was challenging for her.
"It felt unnatural to me to have to flex my wrist towards myself to close around an object, and I very quickly got tired using the M-fingers," she says. "In addition, the fingers were slippery and I couldn't apply enough force to hold objects securely - even opening a door was impossible, due to the unnatural angle at which I had to grasp the handle."
After being fitted with the M-Fingers, Cabrina was told to work with her occupational therapist to improve her function with the device. However, her therapist had never seen anything like it before and was unclear as to how to help Cabrina work with the prosthesis.
"I was better off with my stump than with M-Fingers," she says.
Prior to receiving her M-Fingers prosthesis, Cabrina had seen a segment on Good Morning America that featured ProDigits, the electrically powered prosthetic finger solution from Touch Bionics.
"I had four phone calls from my family before 8am that morning," she recalls. "I felt so excited because finally I felt like there might be something out there that could provide me with the functional capabilities I was looking for."
After having continued problems with her M-Fingers device, Cabrina contacted Touch Bionics directly and was directed to one of the company's Touch Life Centers, a network of clinics that specialize in fitting the unique technology. Clinicians from the Touch Life Center contacted her and conducted a remote assessment to determine her appropriateness for a ProDigits solution. She visited one of the clinics in March 2010 for her first fitting.
"What wonderful service I experienced at the Touch Life Center," says Cabrina. "I worked extensively with their therapists and prosthetists to help me get the most out of my prosthesis, including mirror therapy to help me understand the myoelectric control of the fingers."
Cabrina had some challenges learning how to use the ProDigits at first, but worked these out with the team and was soon learning how to perform many tasks that she had never been able to perform since her amputation, like playing cards and, most importantly of all, putting a child in a car seat - something she needed to be able to do for her new grandchild.
Since leaving Touch Bionics with her final device, Cabrina has returned to independence both at work and at home.
"In the office, I can pick up the phone using the ProDigits and it's good to be able to carry things in my left hand again," she says.
I also use it to help with everyday tasks around the yard and on the farm at home. Cabrina Ball
"With my ProDigits device, the grip strength is much better than with M-Fingers, and because it's electrically powered, I don't have to keep holding a signal to maintain my grasp on an object. Using M-Fingers, it felt unnatural to me to have to flex my wrist to grip an object, and I found the grip strength overall to be quite weak."