how technology transformed my life

Thursday, November 15, 2018


Iwas born with the usual set of limbs. When I was nine months old, I contracted meningococcal septicaemia, a dangerous infection of the blood, which very nearly killed me.


I survived, but because I had sustained major tissue damage, it became necessary to amputate my right leg below the knee, all of the fingers on my left hand and the second and third digits on my right hand. I learned to walk on a prosthetic leg at the age of 14 months, and have gone through my life wearing a succession of artificial limbs.

As time has passed and technology has advanced, so too have my limbs. Like our mobile phones, prostheses have become lighter, faster and more efficient. When I was nine, I was fitted with a lifeless silicone hand, a useless thing that was purely cosmetic, and so clumsy that I refused to wear it after the first day. Now, at 21, and a student in my third year at Edinburgh University, I wear a bionic arm with nimble fingers that move independently, which I operate using controlled muscle movements in my forearm, as well as an app on my phone. As a child I wore a stiff artificial leg attached with straps that frequently fell off; earlier this summer, I took delivery of a new dynamic right leg with shock absorption and carbon fibre blades.
Prosthetics have been around for more than 3,000 years: wooden toes, which strapped on and were specifically designed to work with sandals, were found on the feet of Ancient Egyptian mummies.

 For most of history, prosthetics have been designed to make life more comfortable for adults, to afford the wearer some limited movement, and to avoid drawing attention to their disability (by filling an empty jacket sleeve, or concealing a stump). It is only recently, as advances in robotics and computing power have been incorporated into artificial limbs, that function has become paramount, and the needs of active disabled people, especially children, have begun to influence design.
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