It was 1997 and Judy Griffin was in her third day on a new factory job when she was given the task of working on a punch machine. With little training, her hands got caught up in the equipment and seven fingers were crushed.
"My hands looked like ground-up hamburger," Griffin, of Kewanee, Ill., said Tuesday.
She was in Moline for a news conference at ORA Orthopedics, where she showed off two new prosthetic devices, including a futuristic-looking one for her left hand described as "bionic fingers" in a news release.
Griffin is the first person in the Quad-City region to receive a robotic prosthetic hand from a company called Advanced Arm Dynamics at an estimated cost of $80,000 to $100,000, which was paid by workers' compensation insurance.
The industrial accident put Griffin in the hospital for more than three months, and she was afraid to go outdoors after she was released.
"I was scared I'd be hurt again," she explained. Griffin credits her family with supporting her through that trying time of grief and recovery.
However, some new pain developed a few years ago in her left hand, and Griffin sought the help of Dr. Thomas VonGillern, an expert in hands and upper extremities at ORA.
VonGillern treated Griffin for the pain Recently, he got in touch with Advanced Arm Dynamics and one of its experts, Julian Wells from Waterloo.
Griffin is among only an estimated 100 people in the United States to have the use of the advanced prosthetic, Wells said.
The prosthetic devices allow Griffin, for the first time in 16 years, to more fully use both hands on a given task.
She is naturally right-handed and has her thumb, pinky finger and the stubs of the index, middle and ring fingers on that extremity. There is only a thumb on her left hand.
Griffin demonstrated prosthetics for both hands. On her less-injured right hand, she has extensions for the finger stubs that allow them to work. But for her left hand, she has what looks like something out of a science-fiction movie with complete fingers.
Wells explained that the right-hand device is powered by a long-lasting battery with nerve signals that work between Griffin's wrist and thumb. He is able to track her muscle movements on a laptop computer.
Just hours after she received the devices, Griffin was able to hold a glass with her left hand and also use the hand to hold a knife and cut food.
She was very adept in lifting a glass to her lips with the hand. "We didn't use glass glasses for years," she said, "I broke every one of them."
"Our goal was to relieve her pain," VonGillern said. The doctor noted that Griffin has a can-do personality that makes it feasible for her to use the cutting-edge prosthetics. It will require patience for her to get used to the devices, and she will undergo occupational therapy for the foreseeable future.
Griffin mentioned many activities that she hopes to be able to resume, including putting on make-up ("I didn't use makeup for years," she said), and simply grabbing household objects. She wants to crochet and to sew again, and also hopes to take up painting, arts and crafts and gardening.
She said her grandchildren have never seen her with a left hand, and when she explained that she was getting a new hand, her 7-year-old granddaughter asked whether she would then talk like a robot.
Griffin laughed at the memory and said she plans to go to her grand-daughter's school for show-and-tell to demonstrate her new fingers.