Bionic hand opens new world

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SCITUATE, Massachusetts (NECN) — Using two hands to throw a football is new for Mike Benning.

When he was 14, the Scituate, Massachusetts man had an aggressive form of cancer that forced doctors to amputate his arm below the elbow.

For decades, he wore a prosthetic arm with a hook for a hand.

“I was absolutely terrified to be around kids,” he says. “‘How am I going to hold my daughter? How am I going to hold my son?”

34 years years later, Benning has become the first person in the country to have the i-Limb, the newest bionic hand on the market.

“When I want to open my hand, I will fire this muscle and it will open,” he says.

We met Benning at Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, where he now works in business development. He explains his new hand is powered by sensors that detect muscle activity to prompt movement. It can also be paired with a mobile device and special app that directs the hand into 24 different grip options.

The grips help Benning pluck strawberries from a bowl, type, empty the dishwasher, fold laundry.

“Simple things like that that we all take for granted around the house, umm, now have become easier for me and I’ve just gained another 15 minutes in my day,” he says.

Benning, who also volunteers helping new amputees adjust to limb loss, says while the new technology is marvelous, it isn’t cheap, and Boston Marathon survivors will not only have to cope with the emotional toll, but their new financial realities as well.

The One Fund has raised about $30 million for more than 250 victims. It’s tough to know how much money will be enough for survivors facing so many financial burdens. In prosthetics alone, there’s a wide range of coverage and cost.

“They can vary depending on the technology, can be anywhere from $3,500 to $100,000,” Prosthetist Matt Mikosz says.

In the most recent study, researchers at Johns Hopkins estimated lifetime healthcare costs of traumatic amputation at more than half a million dollars. Mikosz says insurers vastly differ on what costs they will cover. Medicare for example, will cover 80 percent of prosthetic costs, but patients are not fitted with one prosthesis for life. Benning has had as many as 10 new arms.

“Before this technology existed, I would have to go back maybe every three to five years for a new prosthesis and we’re not sure how often I’m going to go back with this new technology,” he says.

But, still, Benning says prosthetics can change a patients world like they did for him.

“I couldn’t hold my daughter’s hand andI couldn’t clap and now, you know,” he says with a clap.

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