BRISTOL – A singer who has lost her voice. A runner who has lost his legs.

At first glance, Frank Cannon doesn’t seem to belong in that group. But when Cannon, an editor at the Kingsport Times-News, lost the ends of two fingers in a recent accident, he could no longer type. Since he makes his living at a keyboard, he turned to the Hand Center at Bristol Regional Medical Center for help.

“It felt like I was misfiring,” Cannon said. “I’d try to type a letter, but it wouldn’t show up on the screen. And when we tried using different prostheses, they were all too bulky for typing – I kept hitting two or three letters at once.”

Most injuries to the fingers occur when people perform manual labor, so most prostheses are designed to help people grasp and lift objects, said Tena Wallace, the manager of Bristol Regional’s occupational therapy department. No existing prostheses were dexterous enough for typing.

Wallace and her staff began experimenting with original designs and soon created a workable prototype. Designed by Karen Haaser, a certified hand therapist at the center, and built by Wallace, the prosthetic fingers use aluminum rods with rubber tips to approximate the length and angle of Cannon’s missing fingers when he sits at a keyboard.

“It’s amazing how well they work,” Cannon said. “I can type the letters l and o again.”

Wallace has submitted the design to a professional journal and may pursue a patent.

“We also have a few former patients in mind we think could benefit from a similar prosthesis,” Wallace said. “So many people use computers for so many things these days – this design could help a lot of people.”


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Jim Wozniak
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