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Sunday, 02 August 2015

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Top award for Cumbrian man who made climber ice-axe hands

Prosthetic hands with built-in ice axes are just one of Phil Myers’ award-winning inventions for amputee sportsmen.

The prosthetic technician, of Deer Park, Wigton, built the unique tools to help Stephen Ball continue with his sport.

Mountaineer Stephen, of Newbiggin, near Penrith, fell 2,000ft down the USA’s biggest mountain in 1999.

After the fall he lost part of his left hand and his right fingers and thumb to severe frostbite, as well as much of his nose and right foot. His left leg was shattered in 12 places and had to be amputated.

But the 54-year-old was determined to keep climbing.

He said: “I just wanted my life back. I wasn’t prepared to pack everything away and say that’s the end of things for me.”

Phil, who works at the Disablement Services Centre at the Cumberland Infirmary, decided he could help. He spent his free time scouring hardware shops, looking for just the right tools to create Stephen’s axe-hands.

Phil picked up the award for Limbcare Technician of the Year at the annual conference of the British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists last month. Stephen was one of the patients who nominated him.

Stephen said: “He’s very innovative and he won’t let obstacles get in his way. He’s looking to improve the prosthetics he makes for me all the time.

“These hands are quite specialised pieces of kit – he’s invented a slide mechanism so I can adjust the position of the axes.”

Phil was also put forward for the award by patient Dave Adams, 43, who lost his right arm and leg in a motorbike accident 12 years ago. With the help of adapted artificial limbs, he’s been able to carry on cycling competitively.

Dave, of Harrington, Workington, said: “When I needed things that were out of the ordinary, Phil’s managed to put them together himself. He’s just gone out of the way to help me with what I wanted to do.”

Dave’s specialised kit includes a right arm with built-in shock absorbers to protect him from vibrations when he’s mountain biking. He often takes part in charity events and plans to cycle from London to Paris later this year.

He said: “It was about 12 months after my accident before I got back into training again. I was actually in hospital for nine of them.

“You’ve got to keep doing something though. You can’t just stop.”

It’s an idea Phil, employed by Charles A Blatchford and Sons,has spent his life trying to realise. Originally a dental technician, he has been building limbs for the past 21 years.

He said: “I was pretty shocked to win the award, because I had no idea it was going to happen. I just got a phone call out of the blue saying I’d won.”

Phil, who is married with two children, works as part of a team of three prosthetic technicians. His job is to make limbs from materials like wood, tin and leather once patients have been measured by his colleagues.

He said: “Definitely the most satisfying part of the job for me is seeing the patients walk out of the building, especially when they came in by wheelchair. I just want to make a bit of a difference to people’s lives.”

Over the next few years, he believes prosthetic technology will become even more advanced. With electronic limbs on the horizon, the future is looking exciting.



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