Knoxville man tests new prosthetic arm

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A man with one arm is one step closer to having a new one. At first, Tommy Jones’s insurance company rejected his plea for a high-tech prosthesis in April, but then it was approved.

Recently, Jones went through a test run using some of the features of his new prosthesis. It will come with computer chips that he’ll be able to program for various hand grips that he’ll need and use on the job.

Previous story: Knoxville man to soon receive new high-tech prosthetic arm after insurance fight

Jones has waited for nearly four decades for his new arm, and it works. In his initial lesson, prosthetist Jennie Rhodes tapped her computer that sends a signal so that Jones can control the high tech hand. 

Rhodes is taking baby steps with Jones as she explains several simple grips, like picking up small objects and taking an object. 

“So this is a lateral grip. This is something people use a lot of times when you are taking something from someone. All you have to do is give me a close signal and that grasps onto that. Until you give it an open signal, it doesn’t let it go,” she said.

Jones listened intently, determined not to fail. He lost his right arm in a farming accident when he was a teenager. His new prosthesis is a few weeks away from being finished and he has many lessons to go.
Jones is a heavy equipment operator. He’s worked this job using one arm for nearly four decades.

When WATE 6 On Your Side first talked Jones in early April he was concerned about his left arm. He injured it last year and that frightened him. He doesn’t want to stop working.

In February, at Victory Orthotics and Prosthetics, he successfully demonstrated that impulses from muscles in his shoulder were alive that he was a good candidate for a high tech prosthesis, but within a few weeks, his insurance company wrote to him and said no and that the new prosthesis was “not medically necessary,” according to the written response.

In April, WATE 6 On Your Side wrote to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee and explained what the video showed and what the certified prosthetist confirmed about Jones’s arm being alive. The insurance company changed direction and approved the arm.

Jones was fitted in May with a plaster cast to capture  the shape of his torso and residual limb. The prosthesis he needs does not come off the shelf.

This month, Rhodes demonstrated lightweight plastic material that will wrap around Jones’s shoulder and upper body. Within time, small computer chips will give Jones the option of up to 10 different grips that he can use. Right now, however, he’s learning to use four simple grips.

“Whenever he gets used to those, that’s when we’ll start programming different Bluetooth chips he can put in the dozer, put on his key chain, or the bathroom. Each one of those chips has different grips he can load into the hand just by holding the hand over those chips,” said Rhodes.

Since Jones hasn’t used some of these muscles in years, his prosthetist says he has some work ahead of him. She’s optimistic about his success. 

“He’s a go-getter and I have no doubt he will really do well with this prosthesis,” said Rhodes.

The finished prosthesis will be made of a durable material to hold up to Jones’s rugged everyday use and he can’t wait for the final fitting. 

“So far it’s good. I’m ready to take it home today though,” he said.

Once Jones is fitted with his new prosthesis, he’ll then work with an occupational therapist. It’s likely he’ll go through sessions twice a week for as long as it takes him to learn how to use the prosthesis effectively. He can’t wait.

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