San Juan Islander receives bionic hand after accident

If you ever need help, Lyle Mann can lend you a hand. In fact, he can take off his roughly one-pound, metal hand and give it to you.

“It means a lot,” said Mann about receiving his prosthetic hand. “There are things I can do that I couldn’t do prior to getting it.”

Last June, the 85-year-old was building furniture in his San Juan Island shop, when he accidentally sawed off all of his fingers and most of his thumb on his right hand.

That’s his dominant one. Now he’s relearning to eat, bathe and even saw with his new bionic hand. If his fingers had been re-attached, Mann doesn’t think they’d come close to making him as “better, stronger and faster” as his new ones do.

“I never could think how they would re-attach my fingers and have them work other than just be stones,” he said, explaining how lifeless his digits might have been if they were reconnected.“[My hand] would have been a hook.”

Wires on the glove of his bionic hand overlay on Mann’s residual fingers, prompting tiny motors on his new digits to open and close. It basically works just like before, except, this time, with batteries.

“Do you tell your fingers to move?” asked Mann, as he smiled during a presentation of his prosthetic at Peace Island Medical Center on Thursday, Dec. 28. “Mentally, when you reach out to pick up anything, it comes through your brain.”

After the accident, Mann was airlifted to Harbor View Medical Center in Seattle with his four fingers, while an officer searched for part of his thumb in the shop’s sawdust. It was found within a few hours and brought to the hospital, but doctors felt Mann couldn’t endure the roughly 12-hour surgery, he explained.

In October, Mann spent about five days being fitted and learning to operate his new hand at a laboratory in Ohio. The company that created his hand, called Touch Bionics by Ossur, even paid to fly Mann and two others to the location.

One was Patricia Schnier, who is a certified hand therapist at Islanders Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation on San Juan Island. According to Joyce Thomson, the owner of the facility, Schnier is the only specialist with that designation on the islands.

Normally, said Thomson, patients like Mann would have to leave the island to see occupational therapists similar to Schnier, sometimes, multiple days a week.

“We’re just really fortunate to have her,” said Thomson. “You should see [Mann] now; he’s pretty amazing.”

Mann can use his mighty hand to pick up almost anything, even the tiniest bead or flimsiest paper cup without crushing it. He cooks, signs his name and even crafted a wooden bowl for Schnier as a Christmas gift. It’s almost like he’s the new six million dollar man.

“I can peel potatoes just as fast as I could with my real hand,” he said.

View more photos of Mann and his bionic hand at www.islandssounder.com.