Making hands move
Artificial hand

Ottobock bebionic hand: This multi-articulating hand comes with 14 different grips to choose from.

A new kind of artificial hand, combined with an innovative operation, is helping amputees use their limbs again

“Can you imagine not having a hand? How would it affect your daily life?” asks Dr. Heather Baltzer, a plastic surgeon in the Sprott Department of Surgery and Director of the Hand Program at University Health Network. As a prominent Canadian hand surgeon, she’s treated many patients with a loss of digits or hands and knows just how impactful this can be on a person’s life. While prosthetic hands are helpful, patients who use them still struggle to do simple tasks, such as picking up a glass of water.

While Dr. Baltzer would prefer if everyone were able to keep the limbs they were born with, that’s not realistic: traumas from causes such as workplace and construction injuries continue to happen, leading to nearly 5,000 Ontarians with severe lower arm and hand injuries per year. One of her focuses now is on getting those with amputations increasingly sophisticated prosthetics.

A better prosthetic

Most prosthetics today are what Dr. Baltzer calls “body powered.” Patients move their elbows or upper arms in a certain way to mechanically operate a cable in the prosthetic. This lets them do one thing at a time, such as open or close their fingers, but not rotate the wrist. “It’s Civil War-type technology,” she says. “But it’s still used today.”