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
"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."