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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Bionic hand helps crippled climber
Stephen Ball
Stephen Ball suffered crippling injuries in the climbing accident
A world first in bionic hands has transformed the life of a man crippled in a horrific mountaineering accident.

Stephen Ball suffered bad frostbite and had to have all his digits and part of his left hand removed.

He also lost the digits from his right hand, his right foot and his left leg below the knee.

But now with the use of electronic fingers controlled from his muscles, Mr Ball can do the things that before the accident he took for granted.


Each day I am adding to my skills

Stephen Ball
He has learned how to write again, tie his shoe laces and use a knife and fork to eat his meals.

Mr Ball's operation at Nottingham City Hospital was the first time an adult with a partial hand amputation had been fitted with an electronic prosthesis.

Although the electronic device was built from scratch especially for Mr Ball, it used the same ground-breaking technology that had already been used to fit bionic hands to five children at the same hospital.

Mr Ball, from Stoke, told BBC News Online that for the first time since the accident in May 1999 he now has a fully functioning hand.

"Each day I am adding to my skills. I can now pick up a mug by the handle. I have written and for the first time since the accident I tied my shoe-laces. I am even able to use a knife and fork."

Terrifying ordeal

Mr Ball was climbing Mount McKinley, America's tallest peak, when he and two friends were trapped in a terrifying snow storm.

One of the trio started to suffer frostbite and Mr Ball went for help.

But while descending from the mountain Mr Ball fell and went cascading down half a mile of ice and snow, smashing his body repeatedly against the rocks.

Because he had fallen from the recognised path it was some time before his rescuers managed to trace him and even though he had built himself a snow shelter he suffered severe frost-bite.

He spent two weeks in a hospital in Alaska before being flown back to Nottingham, where he had a number of operations.

Determination

Then two months ago he was fitted with a new hand.

Now the father-of-three said he was going from strength to strength.

He is already climbing again in the UK with his wife Linda and hopes to start the serious overseas climbs soon, including the mountain where he nearly met his death.

"I have already been climbing in Wales and have been up Snowdon and I am going to the Lakes.

"I have started on the easy climbs, but I would love to climb McKinley again."

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See also:

22 Nov 00 | Health
'Bionic' hand success hailed
22 Oct 00 | Health
Living with a dead man's hand
15 Mar 01 | Health
Bionic arms for 11-year-old
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