Bionic Arm Opens Up New World For Teacher

A young teacher who was born without a right forearm has been able to eat a meal with a knife and fork for the first time - after being fitted with a bionic "Hero Arm". Vikki Smith, 25, had been unable to cut her own food and struggled to do more than one task at a time before she received the new electronic limb earlier this month. She can now enjoy a meal on her own, thread a needle to do her favorite hobby of cross-stitch and curl her hair without fear of burning herself with the tongs.

Her primary school pupils are so impressed they describe her as a "super teacher" because of her new "robot arm", made by Bristol-based firm Open Bionics. The prosthetic, which is marketed as the Hero Arm, is made using a state-of-the-art 3D printer and gives amputees dexterity they have never had before. It works by picking up signals from muscles in the user's residual limb.

The company says it is the most affordable multi-grip bionic limb in the world at less than half the price of its nearest competitor.

Vikki, from Berkshire, said: "The Hero Arm is great. For the first time on Monday I was able to eat my tea with a knife and fork. I've only ever used a fork before and I was never able to cut anything. I've never had something so extreme. "I felt very apprehensive at first, the Hero Arm is heavy compared to the one I was used to. But when I put my old one back on I missed the Hero Arm within seconds. I love it."

She said: "Using a prosthetic has been normal for me since I was little - I got my first when I was only three months old. But my old arm was all about image - as I got older it became more about just having an arm rather than the function of it. This one is so different. "Now I can do so many things all at once. I can carry cups, hold a piece of paper and write on the board at the same time. Instead of trying to balance books on my arm, I can actually hold them. I can even curl my hair easily - I've got a burn mark on my face from when I tried to curl my hair before and now I can do it easily.

"You can tell my new arm is bionic and different but I'm so proud of it. I want to show it off, I want people to like it." The teacher approached OpenBionics after she saw teenage brand ambassador Tilly Lockey on Facebook. Tilly has a Hero Arm after losing both of her hands to meningitis as a little girl.

Vikki discovered she was eligible for a funding scheme and became the first recipient of a Hero Arm donated by The Worshipful Company of Glovers - one of 110 livery companies in the City of London. As part of their charitable aims, The Glovers are donating prosthetic hands and arms to selected applicants who have been unable to get help from the NHS or through other means.

Vikki said: "I will forever be grateful for them because they have now changed my life forever." She is also using her arm in the classroom to promote inclusivity among her Year Three pupils. "I wanted to be an inspiration for the kids, to show every child I teach they are special and can overcome anything. It's helped me build confidence about my arm - before I didn't want to talk about it and didn't want to talk about what was different with me.

"I never walked around with my prosthetic on show but now I've talked about my new arm with the kids. If I'm confident that I'm different then if there is something different about them they can be confident about it." Jonathan Isaacs, chair of the Glovers Prosthetics Working Group, said: "We chose Vikki as our first Hero Arm candidate as we recognized that it would be a life changing opportunity for her in her personal and work life. We recognized her ability to project positivity in overcoming difficulties and her determination to encourage inclusivity."

The Master Glover, Roger De Courcey, said: "The Worshipful Company of Glovers feel very privileged to have been involved in such a wonderful project and we hope that we might be in a position to help others in the future." Samantha Payne, COO and co-founder of Open Bionics, said: “We’re so grateful to the Worshipful Company of Glovers for funding a Hero Arm for Vikki. The Hero Arm is the world’s most affordable multi-grip bionic arm and manufactured at a price point that's affordable enough for NHS healthcare.

"Until the Hero Arm is available on the NHS, there are many people in the UK crowdfunding for better prosthetic devices. If you’re an upper limb amputee interested in the Hero Arm, please sign up on our website and we’ll support you with raising funds."

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