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How Luke Skywalker inspired Enzo to help amputees in Peru

ENZO ROMERO was born without a hand in a country where you can buy a home for the same price as a good artificial replacement.

He was just seven when he saw Luke Skywalker in Star Wars with a prosthetic limb as good as the one he’d lost.

Here, he tells how that film inspired his life’s work to provide personalised prostheses to those in Peru who could never otherwise afford them.

 

 

MANY might expect that being born without a right hand only closes doors, but for me it opened one.

It has allowed me to align my life’s goals towards developing a robotic prosthetic hand for myself and those like me.

That ambition came into focus when I was seven years old and saw Luke Skywalker receive an advanced prosthetic hand that looked just like the hand he lost. Star Wars 5 is a fictional story, but it affirmed to me that my goal was attainable.

In Peru, people with disabilities are too frequently seen as a burden. To others, we don’t have the capacity to be productive or independent.

To those who suffer an accident, this sudden shift in societal perception adds to their shock and trauma. I hoped that providing people with versatile hand-prosthetics would reveal the falsehoods behind this perception and empower people with disabilities to work and live as independently as possible.

While studying mechatronic engineering at Pontifical Catholic University in Peru, I met many physiotherapy, psychology, and industrial engineering students and saw that their perspectives were invaluable to my mission. Together with some friends, we created a prototype of the very first myoelectric prosthesis made in Peru.

We soon realised there is significant demand for such prostheses. In my country alone, there are over 12,600 upper-limb amputees, either born without a hand or having lost one in an accident, with 40 new cases a month.

A large proportion of the population works in the informal economy with an average income of £310 per month and without health insurance.

An imported myoelectric prosthesis costs £55,000, enough to buy an apartment. As a result, many choose the £800 basic hook-type prosthesis.

This disparity inspired me to help create Give a Hand, a non-profit organisation that develops low-cost personalised prostheses using digital manufacturing technology.

We divide rehabilitation into two stages: pre-prosthetic and post-prosthetic. In the pre-prosthetic phase, psychologists work with the patient to create a plan for their adjustment to living with a prosthetic.

Physiotherapists see how much movement capability there still is in the wrist, which feeds into the design process. We then take a three-dimensional scan of both the healthy hand and the amputated section and feed it into a computer model to design a bespoke prosthesis for every individual.

Using 3D printing to produce the parts, it only takes two to three days per prosthetic, at which point we can assemble and let the patient start to use it.

In the post-prosthetic phase, physiotherapists give the patient specific exercises to help them adjust to their new hand. They also guide them in using their prosthetic in their home environment, helping naturalise the interactions between a new hand but familiar surroundings.

Now I hope to expand Giving a Hand throughout South America and beyond. With an estimated  2.4million upper-limb amputees living in less economically developed countries, we know there are many more people we can help.”

  • The UK Royal Academy of Engineering’s Leaders in Innovation Fellowship has been fundamental in this process, encouraging partnerships with entrepreneurs and researchers in the region. The subsequent LIF Advance programme has given me access to both technical and business guidance from brilliant mentors in health and disability technology.

www.patreon.com/latbionics

  • In the UK, specialised services and disability equipment for patients with an amputation or congenital limb deficiency are funded by the NHS.
  • The NHS spends £60 million per year on these services for about 60,000 patients in the UK.
  • There are 35 specialist rehabilitation service centres in England.
  • There are also private healthcare options, including prosthetics manufacturers that include specialist services.

 

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