Weeks after becoming the first woman nationally to be fitted with an i-limb quantum bionic arm, Lizbeth Uzcategui continues to discover — and surprise herself with — what she can do.
The new, high-tech limb, made by Massachusetts-based Touch Bionics, allows the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resident to enjoy small movements that many people might take for granted. Things like giving a thumbs-up (or down), moving a computer mouse, shaking hands, opening up her new hand to rest her phone in it, or using the electronic thumb and index finger to pinch something.
“This has been a lot more than just functional for me. It has been also emotional for me in the sense that, before, I was not happy with what I had,” said Uzcategui, 43.
The native Venezuelan was born without the right arm below the elbow and three fingers on her left hand due to amniotic band syndrome, which restricts blood flow in utero and affects development.
Since age 3, she has had about 15 different skin-hued prosthetics, which she found cumbersome because they only allowed an open-and-close hand movement.
“I was frustrated. I needed something better. I needed to be more functional,” said Uzcategui, who came to the United States 20 years ago, teaching Spanish in North Carolina and then Pennsylvania. “The fact that I couldn’t [perform certain functions], I just wasn’t satisfied with who I was, who I could be. I wanted to be more.”
Her new device, which weighs about a pound, uses a microprocessor to run five fully functional fingers. It has six embedded electrodes that read the user’s muscle contractions in the limb. Those signals cause the arm to flex the fingers and open and close the palm. In all, it has 24 movements.
Matthew Klein, Uzcategui’s prosthetist at Hanger Clinic, has seen how the device has helped enhance her life. It was customized for the petite hands of the 5-foot-1-inch woman.
“These hands, in general, have evolved quite a bit in the last five to seven years, and they have all been too large for her hand,” Klein said. “She would come in with a somewhat antiquated hand, but it would look like a gigantic fake hand on her.”
“I am just really thrilled by what I can do right now,” Uzcategui said. “It’s like a new me.”