Razia’s new hand – the story behind

Hi, this is Siddique-e Rabbani, Chairperson of the Biomedical Physics & Technlogy department of the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh. I am leading a group of dedicated and talented research students, trying to develop healthcare technology for the common people in economically constrained countries like ours. Today I’ll tell you the story of Rajia, who got a special gift this year from our department, on the eve of the religious Eid celebrations. I would like to acknowledge Farm Fresh group for kindly providing partial funds for this project. Rajia is an apparently sweet and happy teenage girl. Her mother collects old newspapers from door to door, selling them to make a living. About 7 years back, while she was out on work, Razia, an 8 year old child, was left playing on the roadside with friends. Here she found a small tobacco box wrapped in bright red tape. She picked it up, tried to open it – and lo - it exploded with a big bang – ripping through her soft little right hand. It was a homemade bomb, left by some unscrupulous thugs. Razia survived, but got maimed for life. Rajia’s mother used to collect old newspapers from door to door, selling these for a living. When I heard about Razia’s plight I got hooked – can we make a functional hand prosthesis for Razia? I engaged some students. We aspired high and made a sophisticated myoelectric hand prosthesis, driven by muscle signals on voluntary contraction. It worked alright, but was too heavy. Appropriate light motors were not available locally. Besides, changing batteries and spares could become unaffordable for Rajia’s family. I then wrote to a company in the UK sending them photographs of her hand. They said her hand will need further surgery to fit their existing models of prosthetic hands, and that she has to be sent to UK. This was an impossibility. I then talked to a local firm, they suggested a non-functional cosmetic hand, and of course, imported, for about 270 US dollars. This may give her some self-confidence although without any functional help. But the price, I thought, was too much - for such a simple gadget. I was wondering how we could make a realistic looking hand for Rajia. One day while I was looking at mannequins at a dressmaker’s stall, it suddenly dawned on me, why not use a mannequin’s hand? I bought one from a supplier for only about 15 dollars, cut the bottom out, and fitted aluminium brackets to affix it on the stump of Rajia’s hand, using cloth and Velcro. That was her gift on the eve of the Eid celebrations last year, and we could see the happiness in her eyes. However, I was not satisfied. I wanted to give the hand some functionality. One day while watching my wife gripping her hair using spring clips, I thought - Eureka! I got the solution! I bought another mannequin hand, but with fingers curled up a little. Lab Technician Partho helped me in taking the old unnatural –looking paint out. I asked my workshop friend Narayan to cut the thumb out, and to make a simple spring clip, strong enough to hold a pen or a piece of paper, or a cloth. The thumb normally closed on to both the forefinger and the middle finger. When I put a pen in between, the grip looked excellent! Narayan then attached an aluminium extension bracket and my research student Shathee fixed the Velcro straps for fitting this hand to Rajia’s forearm. Last 13th August was a special day. I invited Rajia and her mother and all my research students. Carefully I fitted the device to her forearm, and slipped in a pen between the fingers. I asked her to write. I must say I was slightly apprehensive, whether she could do it after about 8 years of unuse. But no, to our surprise, she immediately started to write freely, as if she had been doing it for ever. Bangla scripts need a lot of circular motion, and she did them perfectly well. She wrote pages and pages. The letters were slightly larger as she used her forearm muscles to write, without the dexterity provided by the fingers, but were quite readable. I wanted to give the hand a bit more finishing to improve the aesthetics before handing it over to Rajia. As it was the beginning of the Eid holidays I brought it home, sew pieces of cloth and Velcro to camouflage the raw look of the aluminium bracket. I could manage to give her this gift on 19th August, 2012, just on the eve of the happy Eid celebration the following day. Rajia gleamed and started writing. She wrote a letter to her mother, translated, it becomes, “Dear mum, I am writing today with my right hand. Please pray for me. – Rajuni” the fond name her mother calls her by. Both Rajia and her mother gave a look of gratefulness. It was Rajia’s precious gift for the happy Eid this year.