Man who fits prosthetic limbs for gets bionic arm after crash
A man who designs and fits prosthetic limbs for NHS patients has had his own bionic arm fitted after he was run over by an articulated lorry. The revolutionary replacement has meant he has been able to return to work. Dr Jim Ashworth-Beaumont had to endure the ordeal of having his right arm amputated while he remained trapped under a 40-tonne truck that ‘side swiped’ his bike in July 2020.
He spent six weeks in an induced coma and, after recovering from his injuries, the 55-year-old vowed to return to his career designing and fitting artificial limbs for NHS patients. He was helped by experts from three of Britain’s largest prosthetic manufacturers who came together to help ‘one of their own’. Jim has now been fitted with a bespoke electronic arm that he can attach different ‘hands’ to depending on what he is doing at the time.
The devices use electrical signals sent from Jim’s remaining tricep and bicep muscles to control hand and wrist movements.
Jim using the new limb (Image: Ottobock/BNPS)
For day-to-day use he has an Ossur ‘i-limb quantum’ prosthetic hand that can change grip by using simple gestures. This allows him to carry out delicate precision activities as diverse as holding cutlery, peeling an orange or shaking hands. For heavy duty work Jim has an Otto Bock Greifer ‘gripper’ hand which gives him a much stronger grip and is robust enough to manipulate tools and handle heavier objects in a workshop environment.
It even comes with an LED lamp that illuminates the object he is working on. The hands easily interconnect with the Otto Bock wrist unit. The ‘Espire Pro’ elbow, produced by Steepers, contains the ‘brain’ that allows all the components to work seamlessly together.
It’s also strong enough to allow the married father-of-two to hold objects weighing up to 24lbs and lift items weighing up to 8lbs and is ideal for him assisting patients. It also has a free swing option to match Jim’s natural arm movement while walking. The bionic arm has been designed by Jim’s former university friend Alan McDougall, the clinic manager at Surrey-based ProActive Prosthetics.
He contacted colleagues Otto Bock, Ossur and Steeper, who supplied the three devices for free. Alan came up with the bespoke design to work around Jim’s requirements.
Jim before the accident (Image: BNPS)
Jim, from Greenwich, south east London, said: “I have been completely blown away by the cooperation and generosity of these three amazing companies as well as Alan and the team at Proactive. “The separate component parts already exist but the way they have been configured is unique to me.
The arm really is clever and works with me to carry out the tasks I need to complete every day. “I can manipulate items and grab uneven-shaped objects like cups, tools or something as fragile as an apple, my grip automatically conforming to shape as I grasp. The elbow and wrist amplify the power of my body movement and allows me to get my hand to where it needs to be quickly and efficiently.
“At the same time the arm is light enough for me to take it off and pop it in my rucksack! I commute to work by running and on the tube, put the arm on when I get to work and pop it back in my bag when I go home. If I am doing something at home like cooking or housework or DIY then I can just put it back on again.”
“The bottom line for me is that this arm represents the difference between me being independent and able to carry on working and not working and having restricted independence.”
He was helped by experts from three of Britain’s largest prosthetic manufacturers who came together to help ‘one of their own’. (Image: Ottobock/BNPS)
Jim, originally from Edinburgh, works as a prosthetist and orthotist at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London. The former Royal Marine was training for a triathlon when he was almost killed in the horrific collision in Catford. He stopped on his bike at traffic lights when the lorry pulled up and collided with him.
The truck rolled over Jim, severing his arm and almost killing him. He said: “I was aware of the wheels of the articulated lorry rolling up my arm and I was convinced the next part of my body to be hit would be my head. I was pretty convinced that I was going to die.”
His right arm had to be amputated above the elbow before he could be freed and airlifted to Kings College Hospital – the hospital where he actually began his career in 2000. He also suffered nerve damage to his legs, collapsed lungs, liver and kidney trauma, spinal fractures, broken bones in his face and arms, and a fracture in every single rib in his body. He was told later that it was touch and go as to whether he would survive.
During his rehabilitation Jim was contacted by Alan who offered to help. Alan, originally from East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, said: “We got Jim in for an assessment but realistically what he needed was going to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. He didn’t have that cash so having contacts in the prosthetic world I thought ‘can I put all the different parts together and see what we can come up with?’
“Jim still has his bicep and tricep muscles there and he can still fire those muscles by sending electrical signals from the brain, it’s just that they don’t control the elbow which is no longer there. “We have put electric censors over those muscles and they pick up the electric signals and transfer them to the new elbow and arm. The elbow can flex and extend, the wrist can rotate and the hand can open and close.
“There is quite a lot to learn, it is not just a case of pop it on and off you go. “He can only control one joint at a time. So picking something up from off the shelf for example requires shoulder, elbow, hand and wrist movement.
“For a normal person that would take one second but for Jim it is moving one joint at a time and the process will take five seconds.”