After years of research and testing, a Kansas man became the first to receive the latest in prosthetic technology. "It's not going to help everyone, but there's a lot out there that it will help," said Steve Martinez about his brand new fingers.
Eyewitness News was with him when he put them on for the first time. It was a day full of joy, celebrations, and gratitude as he experienced the medical marvel.
Martinez can barely contain his excitement as he tries out his new fingers. Even while talking, he's constantly moving them around, enjoying the sensations. Every word is accompanied by the clacking sound the metal framework makes.
He exclaims excitedly over each newly discovered ability, pointing, waving, typing. "No mistakes!" he laughs. "Wow!" He peers closely at the computer screen in front of him, reading what he wrote. " I can type for the first time in three years. I thank God. My whole life has now changed."
Those three short sentences sum up Steve Martinez attitude about life in general. The day he got his fingers was an exciting one for a man who doctors have called a miracle. "God saved my life," said Martinez.
Several years ago, he started to feel headachy on the way to his job as a manager at Dillons. At work, he fainted. Co-workers called his wife, who rushed him to the hospital. He had a 107 degree fever and what doctors told them was a deadly form of E-Coli. They told Martinez' wife he would die. But he didn't.
After days of prayer and worry, he began to slowly improve. His fever fell from 107 to 103, then left altogether. Organs which had stopped working suddenly started to function again. This time, doctors told his wife, he would live, but they would have to amputate his damaged limbs.
When he woke up, his hands were bandaged and Martinez had no idea what had happened. He wondered if he'd been in a car accident, until his wife broke the news. "My wife came up to me and she goes, 'Steve, something very serious. You've been very, very sick.' She goes, 'You've lost your legs, you've lost some of your fingers,'" said Martinez matter of factly.
But he didn't let that slow him down. He got right to work, demanding the latest technology in prosthetics. Researching the most recent developments.
Now, he once again spends 17 hours a day, mostly on his feet. But they're the latest feet technology has to offer, and the third set he's worn since losing the ones he was born with. This set of prosthetic legs comes complete with Blue Tooth technology. He can program the microprocessors in the feet that let them bend at the ankle just like biological feet.
Replacing his lost fingers has taken a little longer. "These fingers took almost three years in manufacturing them," said Martinez, stumbling over his own words in his excitement.
They're called the X-Fingers and Martinez waited like a child on Christmas morning to try them on for the first time. His first words, a complaint. "I feel the friction, here. See it? Feel it? It's on the rollers."
That doesn't phase his team of prosthetists at Hanger Prosthetics. One of them whisks the offending finger away for a small adjustment in another room, while the other continues to put the second set of fingers on Martinez' right hand. These fit like they were made for him. "It actually feels like your fingers," Martinez marvels. "That's the amazing part. It feels as though I have fingers."
Unlike his legs and feet, the X-Fingers are purely mechanical, no computers. "As technology advances, of course, everything seems to get smaller," said Sarah Newkirk of Hanger Prosthetics.
"They have better techniques of making things move without having a huge harnessing system."
There are computerized hand and arm prosthetics available, but not for someone missing just a few fingers. Just how well these will work for Martinez depends instead on the muscles that remain in his hands.
"Well, as you bend your fingers, there's muscles in here that bend every joint ," explains prosthetist Ken Schuldt with Hanger Prosthetics. "So that he can flex and grasp."
Holding a piece of paper may not seem like something to celebrate. But when someone loses their fingers, it becomes impossible. With these new prosthetics there are so many things that Martinez can now do again.
While his team is busy explaining the technical aspects of how the X-Fingers work, Martinez bursts back into the room to share his latest accomplishment, holding a water bottle in one hand. "I was standing there and she said, 'Would you like some water?' And I said, 'Absolutely,'" he explains, so excited he's practically dancing on his prosthetic legs. "And I picked it up, not even thinking about it. And it felt, just like before. And I held it, just like I used to hold it."
He demonstrates, shifting the bottle from one hand to the other. Someone warns him the cap is off the bottle and he grins, I know, and takes a sip, sighing in satisfaction. "I'm rejoicing," Martinez said. "I'm going to go open like a hundred bottles of water just and start drinking," he laughs.
Celebrating the moment is something Martinez does well. He's made a practice of it. "Nothing guarantees us a tomorrow, five minutes old, a hundred years old," he explains. "None of us know. So you've got to live for today."
And he uses humor to take away the weight of some of the changes he's had to go through. "They look a little different then the originals, but they're great! In fact, my originals never shined this much!" He laughs again. "(They) remind me of the Terminator or Robocop."
Beneath the jokes lurks a serious mind. Martinez is determined to get as much of his lost functions back as the latest technologies will allow. Unlike many patients, he leads his doctors, not the other way around.
"They tell me what's available, what the options are," he said. "I make the final decision, what I need for me and what will work for me, because I know what my abilities are." His team says, that's exactly the attitude one needs to succeed with a prosthetic.
"Steve is also the type of person that good is not good enough," adds Schuldt. "He's constantly challenging us with new ideas."
Martinez was the one who researched the X-Fingers and brought the idea to his team at Hanger Prosthetics. They contacted a firm in Florida which eventually built them to the team's specifications. Between testing earlier versions and personalizing the prosthetic fingers, it took some three years to reach this point. Three years that Martinez feels were completely worth the effort. "And I'm sure in the future, there's going to be better," he said. "And I'll be right there telling them let's try those!"
But for now he's taking the time to enjoy his new fingers and figure out how they'll affect his life.
"Today was fulfilling. Today was exciting," Martinez says, thinking back over the experience.