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Gripping innovation
Cumming man becomes the first Georgian with a bionic hand
Antonio Rueda, right, 36, shows his hand's range of motion to Dr. Daniel Elseroad, a Hangar Prosthetics and Orthotics practitioner, Tuesday in Cumming. Rueda lost his left arm after a cement mixer rolled over his hand in 2007 at work. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Antonio Rueda may not be "The Six Million Dollar Man," but his new bionic hand is pretty intriguing.

In 2007, an industrial mixer rolled over the Cumming resident's arm. After being pinned for 20 minutes under the cement machine, Rueda was freed, but not without consequences. Damage to his arm left it mostly unusable.

"I was thinking because the accident was so bad, that I wouldn't be able to do anything else for the rest of my life," said Rueda, 36.

He tried working with an occupational therapist to try and regain use of his hand. But after more than a year of therapy, Rueda was no closer to being able to reach his goal.

"I told my doctor, I just wanted to cut it off. If I couldn't use it, we might as well cut it off," Rueda said.

"My doctor kept asking if I was sure, if I really wanted to cut it off, and I said ‘Yes.'"

Although Rueda was sure he wanted to amputate his nonworking hand, his doctor told him to think about it for a while longer. During that time, Rueda came across an article about high-tech prosthetics - specifically "robotic" hands.

After a consultation with his doctor and Daniel Elseroad of Hangar Prosthetics and Orthotics practitioner in Cumming, Rueda settled on amputating his hand to gain a BeBionic appendage.

British prosthesis maker RSLSteeper only recently released the myoelectric prostheses, which can be controlled by detecting electrical nerve signals in the skin of the remaining portion of a limb.

"At first, when they cut my hand off, it felt weird," Rueda said.

"I thought it was going to be hard to use the new hand, but after they put it on, everything changed. It was easy to use."

"Since this is my new hand, I work very hard (with my occupational therapist) to make it work, just like it was my own."

Rueda's new hand not only gives him a chance to fully enjoy his life again, it also secured his place in the history books.

"He is the first person in Georgia and one of the first people nationwide to have the new, BeBionic hand," said Elseroad, who fit Rueda for the prosthetic.

"Each finger has a motor that controls it - standard (bionic) hands only have one grip, but his can do multiple grips. There are two big muscle groups in the arm that control hand motion. The BeBionic hand uses electrodes to pick up signals from the muscles to move."

According to BeBionic's website, the myoelectric hand can be programmed wirelessly to allow for customized functions that suit the individual user. The hand also can be fitted with a flesh-colored "glove" that gives the hand a realistic look.

His new hand allows Rueda to do things that most people take for granted, such as buttoning a shirt, picking up certain objects and even folding laundry.

He's also gained new abilities, like being able to turn his wrist 360 degrees and adjusting the placement of his thumb.

"At first it felt strange and got a little sore," Rueda said. "But now I'm very comfortable with it."

Although the prosthetic is more durable than the average cellphone, Elseroad says that Rueda should still take precautions with it.

"It's pretty durable, but you wouldn't want to have it out in a downpour, or anything like that," Elseroad said.

For Rueda, his hand is more than a hand; it is also a point of interest when he goes out in public.

"Everyone that I see in the store, they say ‘Man, that's cool' and they stop and ask me about it," Rueda said.

"I like it when they ask questions instead of just looking. When they ask me about it, it makes me feel good."

Although he's regained some skills, there are still things on his to-do list.

"I used to work on cars," Rueda said. "I'd like to be able to do that again."