Location: Grass Valley, California
Clinic: California Touch Life Center
Product: i-limb digits
Just over ten years ago, Curtis Sawin was involved in a tragic road accident. His SUV rolled and ended up trapping his hand between the body of the vehicle and the surface of the road. Curtis's left hand was crushed beyond recognition, with all four fingers damaged so badly that amputation was the only option.
"The hospital immediately made the decision to amputate most of my hand," Curtis recalls. "I think it was an easy decision for them, as there was really nothing left to save."
Curtis spent a week and a half in hospital following the accident and subsequent amputation of four fingers and the majority of his left hand. He was heavily sedated and this, combined with the bandages and cast on his arm, prevented the reality of his situation from sinking in fully.
"I don't think it really hit me that I had been amputated until I left the hospital," says Curtis, who was still living with his parents at the time. "Of course, it was tough at first, but after two weeks of being at home, my dad said, 'Right, let's get back to work!' and I started going out with him to jobs."
Curtis works as a glazier in the family glass business and he credits his swift return to work with helping him come to terms with his injury.
"At least I wasn't stuck in the house, sitting looking at my hand," he says. "I wasn't able to do much at first, but keeping busy was important. Also, I come from a small town where everybody knows you, so the local support was amazing."
Curtis's amputation left him with a functioning thumb on his left hand, which he is able to use to provide him with some basic function, but meant that a functional prosthesis was not an option at the time.
"While I was in hospital, the subject of a prosthesis had never been raised, although my family did know a local prosthetist in Grass Valley, who made sure he kept me up to date with any developments," says Curtis. "To be honest, I never really even considered a prosthesis in those days, as I was able to get by in life okay by using my right hand for most things, and supporting with my left."
Things began to change for Curtis after several years, when he began to experience pain in his right hand that was attributed to overuse. Glazing can be a physically demanding job, and the constant usage of his right hand for almost every daily task was beginning to take its toll.
"It scared me to think that I could end up losing the function in my right hand as well," he recalls.
His local prosthetist was Todd Bullock of Sierra Prosthetics & Orthotics, and in 2010, he heard from Bullock, who informed him about ProDigits from Touch Bionics, a new prosthetic solution for partial hand amputees.
"For sure it was cool technology, but I was more interested in what it could do to help me save my right hand," says Curtis. "I thought 'If ProDigits can help me reduce the amount I have to rely on my right hand, then that can only be a good thing.'"
After confirming with Bullock that he was interested in the technology, they booked his first meeting at the California Touch Life Center, one of a network of prosthetic care facilities owned and operated by Touch Bionics. There he met with the center's prosthetist, and they discussed his suitability for ProDigits.
"Working with Touch Life Center was great - they were very personable and professional," he says. "After that first meeting, I decided that I was definitely interested in ProDigits, but first had to find out if my insurance would agree to pay for it. Luckily, the support team at the Touch Life Center helped me with my claim and I was approved by my insurer after a few weeks."
Curtis visited the Touch Life Center twice more, one for an early test fitting of his device and training, and once more in December 2010 to receive his final device.
"I was impressed with the level of training provided at the Touch Life Center, and it was very useful to be able to work with an occupational therapist to learn how best to use my ProDigits," recalls Curtis. "It was very helpful, but it was also quite tiring at times, as I was using muscles again that I had not used much for the past 10 years."
Now, a few months after his fitting, Curtis has found his ProDigits to be beneficial for certain tasks.
"I find that the ProDigits is good for helping me for more precise tasks, like holding a screw while I'm using a screw gun at work, or gripping other small objects," he says. "I don't use my device for the heavy duty jobs at work, but if I can use ProDigits to increase the usage of my left hand for many of the other everyday tasks I do, then it will help me to lower the strain on my right hand."
"I've been experimenting with the ProDigits to figure out what I can and can't do with it," says Curtis. "The more tasks I can do on a daily basis, the better it will be for me in the long term."